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The Art of Fear: An Exploration of American Horror and Thriller Films in Polish Posters

An exploration into the visceral, shocking, and visually stunning posters for the films that are known to incite fear and unease in the audience.

Rosemary's Baby (1) Thumbnail   Alien Thumbnail   Nosferatu (2) Thumbnail   The Domino Principle Thumbnail   Jaws II Thumbnail   Someone to Watch Over Me Thumbnail   Coma Thumbnail   The Birds Thumbnail


This exhibit containing Polish posters for American horror and thriller films aims to explore the relationship between imagery and the reaction it has on the viewer. In order to fully appreciate and understand the complex nature of these posters, it is important to view them with careful attention to both the content​ and the context of the piece. The exhibit will focus on the imagery and visual symbols utilized in horror and thriller films, as well as the overall effect that deliberate artistic choices have on the viewer.


At the end of the 19th Century, Poland was not yet recognized on maps as a sovereign nation. Rather than existing as an independent country, Polish territories were split and controlled by Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Warsaw, placed under Russian rule, became known as the largest economic, trade, and industrial center in Poland. Krakow, under the far less oppressive rule of Austria, became a breeding ground for artistic and cultural life. This capital of the nation was populated by writers and artists who had traveled extensively through Europe, and thus were familiar with modernist cultural trends.

During the Cold War, American “publicity materials” were banned from Poland, so Polish artists were often not able to view the films for which they were designing posters for. What became known as the “golden era” of film posters began at the end of the 19th Century and carried on throughout the 20th Century. This era of globalized entertainment led to movie posters looking the same in every country, with the exception of the Polish posters. The Polish School of Posters artists were trained in designing posters that reflected individualized versions of movie posters for an internal market, as opposed to a global market. In Poland, the eighties marked a time of strong opposition to the increasingly oppressive Communist rule. During the Communist regime, Polish posters were often the only colorful thing on the street, and subsequently became a staple of Polish life and culture. In essence, Polish film posters serve not just as an inspiration for young artists and a testament towards cultural heritage, but also as a historical lens that reveals how Poland adapted to ideological constraints.


The poster was born in France after the invention of color lithography. Influenced by the French's artistic achievements, Polish artists chose the poster as their medium of expression. The poster soon became known as a well respected and acceptable form of art. The Polish Poster came to be in the 1890s through painters. Initially, the posters were intertwined with classical art and announced theatre and ballet performances as well as fine art exhibitions, but this changed at the first international exhibit of the poster, held in Krakow in 1898. Organized by Polish-Russian architect Jan Wdowiszewski, this exhibit explored the power of the poster to act as a reflection for society’s way of life. The posters included in the exhibit reflected Western trends and influences alongside promotion of national style, something that was indicative of political independence. In these posters, modernist styles like cubism were combined with more traditional elements, such as natural symbolism and folklore. Poster artists used a direct and visual language to communicate with the viewer, wielding the poster as an opportunity to utilize artistic expression to its fullest potential and create something inherently ​new​.

After World War II, the Propaganda Poster Studio was established in Lublin. Run by Polish painter Wlodzimerz Zakrzewski, the studio was tasked with devising graphical rules to create a method for creating posters. They introduced a new visual language, pairing colorful imagery with patterns and styles borrowed from Russian art. The Propaganda Poster Studio signified the first time that poster art was institutionalized in Poland, and would eventually lead to the Polish Poster School.

The fifties and sixties would become known as the “golden age” for Polish Posters. The Stalinist rule was lifted in the mid fifties, leaving ample room for artistic expression. Artists were able to work outside of the commercial constraints of a capitalist economy, leading to a poster school that was vibrantly diverse in terms of design. Film Polski (Polish Film) and Centrala Wynajmu Filmow (Movie Rentals Central) were the main institutions that commissioned poster artists and designers. They produced posters that showcased powerful imagery inspired by films, while still lacking star headshots, movie stills, or any direct connection to the film title. The general theme of Polish film posters was a blatant disregard for the demands of big studios, and the ability of artists to create posters that were more akin to fine art than commercial art.


The overarching themes of this exhibit explore the form of the posters and the specific creative choices made by artists. One of these themes is the different ways that typography is used in posters, ranging from extremely minimal to something that is involved, complex, and reads as the punctum. The use of black and white imagery and silhouettes - images that lack excessive detail - is also popular in horror and thriller film posters, due to their ability to create a sense of unease and mystery. Similarly, the concept of using one central figure against a black or dark colored background is used to highlight the importance of the sole figure, as well as indicating how the perspective and positioning of images plays into how the poster is perceived. Opposing black and white imagery, some posters in this exhibit make use of a comic-book style of art, using bold colors and crudely drawn figures to take violent and shocking imagery and reduce it to something child-like. Furthermore, everything about the poster artists craftsmanship is intentional, including using scratchy, hurried brushstrokes as opposed to clear outlines, which is used to produce a feeling of anxiousness in the viewer.

These Polish posters also make use of staple motifs of horror and thriller films, including skulls, creatures and inhumane figures, and the concept of “less is more” in design. An example of this is the poster for ​Jaws​, in which the artist uses just the fin of a shark swimming in barren waters with a trail of blood behind it, as opposed to rendering an entire shark. The lack of gore and openly horrifying imagery in this exhibit serves as proof that the Polish posters leave a lot to the viewer’s imagination, paralleling how horror and thriller films have more to do with the audience’s reaction than to the actual plot of the film. Instead of using imagery that is grotesque in nature, the poster artists featured in this exhibit create images that are unusually striking in order to captivate the viewer. The uniqueness of these posters further contributes towards the groundbreaking and visually striking nature of horror and thriller films. In order to create posters that are out- of-the-ordinary and thought-provoking, the Polish poster artists merge elements and figures that are on their own, not frightening, but when combined, are able to produce something so unexpected that it causes a profoundly visceral and unsettling reaction in the viewer.


The Supernatural

Alien Thumbnail   Christine Thumbnail   Omen Thumbnail   Poltergiest Thumbnail   The Raven Thumbnail   Rosemary's Baby (1) Thumbnail   Rosemary's Baby (2) Thumbnail   Rosemary's Baby (3) Thumbnail




The Hunger Thumbnail   Jaws Thumbnail   Jaws II Thumbnail   Nosferatu 1 Thumbnail   Nosferatu (2) Thumbnail   Young Frankenstein Thumbnail




Coma Thumbnail    Frenzy Thumbnail    The Tenant Thumbnail





The Birds Thumbnail   Family Plot 1 Thumbnail    Family Plot 2 Thumbnail   The Tunnel Thumbnail




The Domino Principle Thumbnail  Night Moves Thumbnail  Malone Thumbnail




The Conversation Thumbnail    Klute Thumbnail     The Parallax View Thumbnail    Someone to Watch Over Me Thumbnail



Andrzej Dudziński

Andrzej Dudziński was born in Sopot, Poland in 1945. Having studied architecture and poster design, he worked for many underground magazines and publications while living in London. His work has appeared in Polish periodicals and exhibited at fine art galleries in Warsaw. He has also designed posters for film and theatre, illustrated children’s books, and designed stage sets for theatre and television. From 1982-1989 he taught at the Parson’s School of Design in New York City.

Jakub Erol

Jakub Erol (November 30, 1941- February 8, 2018) was a Polish graphic artist and an author of posters counted amongst the Polish School of Posters. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, and after beginning to work as a professional artist he collaborated with the Film Distribution Center and National Publishing agency to design hundreds of posters for both Polish and foreign films.

Jerzy Flisak

Jerzy Flisak (September 24, 1930 - February 21, 2008) was a renowned Polish poster artist who specialized in film posters that were satirical in nature. He often collaborated with the Polish Film Distribution Office to design posters for American films. A graduate of the Faculty of Architecture at Warsaw University of Technology, Flisak was known for his “sloppy” style and thick, powerful brushstrokes, as well as his light use of color, creative typography, and applied stylistic and historical references. He used various techniques in his posters including painting, photography, and cut-out materials. Apart from his work for the Polish Posters film collection, Flisak also created set designs, animated films, and a series of caricatures of famous Polish politicians and cultural figures. In 1961 he received the award of the Minister of Culture and Art for his satirical works, and consecutively, in 1985, he received the award of the Prime Minister.

Ryszard Kaja

Ryszard Kaja (1962 - April 17, 2019), born in Ponzan, was a Polish painter, Graphic Designer, and stage and poster designer. A graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts in Ponzan, he followed in the footsteps of his father who was a graphic designer and representative of the Polish School of Posters. The main inspiration for his works was the prose of Czeck writer Bohumil Hrabal, with a specific focus on his perception of the juxtaposition of beauty and cruelty found in everyday life.

Jolanta Karczewska

Jolanta Karczewska is a visual artist born in 1933. Her work was primarily influenced by the post-war period of the 1950’s, and the pooling of artistic talent and ideas brought about by the migration of many European creatives and artists to New York City after World War II, as a result of exile from European countries.

Andrzej Klimowski

Andrzej Klimowski is a graphic artist and designer of theatre, film, and opera posters born of Polish parents in London in 1949. Having studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, he is the author of graphic novels and an international illustrator of book covers and magazines. His influences include surrealism, Dada, expressionism, his own East-European ancestry, and his personal style which includes elements of fantasy, anxiety, eroticism, and ambiguity. His professional illustration and graphic artwork is also influenced by his experimental work in printmaking, photography, and painting. He currently works as the head of illustration at the Royal College of Art (RCA).

Anna Kozlowska

Anna Kozlowska is a Polish Graphic Designer and artist who works and resides in London. She studied commercial Graphic Design at The University of Computer Sciences in Lodz, Poland. Using surrealist and abstract influences, she specializes in clothing graphics for adult apparel. Her preferred mediums for experimental works are drawing, oil painting, and photography.

Edward Lutczyn

Edward Lutczyn is a Polish visual artist, born on June 8, 1947 in Heppenheim. He is commonly known for his impressive work with caricatures, satirical drawings, illustrations, and posters, made for both children and adults. He has both appeared in and collaborated with many popular magazines and publications, including the likes of Playboy and Reader’s Digest. He has also authored two comic books and illustrated the television show “Butik”. A graduate of the AGH University of Science and Technology, Lutczyn is vastly exhibited and awarded, having designed posters, postcards, and CD covers, as well as illustrating over 120 books.

Jan Młodożeniec

Jan Młodożeniec ​(1929 - 2000), born in Warsaw, was a polish graphic designer who specialized in posters, drawing, book publication and design, and illustration. He studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts within the department of Graphic Arts and Posters of Henryk Tomaszewski. He also served as a member of Alliance Graphique International (AGI), a club composed of the world’s leading artists and designers.

Andrzej Pągowski

Andrzej Pągowski, born April 19, 1953 in Warsaw, is a Polish Graphic Designer and poster artist. He studied at the Poster Studio at University of the Arts in Poznan with a concentration in applied Graphic Design. As a working professional, he served as the artistic director of the Polish version of Playboy magazine and designed billboards, logos, and CD cover art. He was the leading representative of the commercial-free poster art of the Communist period, and there is a distinct contrast between his older works, which were staples of classic Polish Posters, and his newer works which resembled contemporary advertising. His work is characterized by a “flick of the wrist” style, including spontaneous, handwritten details and typography.

Wiesław Wałkuski

Wiesław Wałkuski​, born in 1956 in Bialystok, Poland, is ranked as one of the most outstanding living poster artists, with over 200 posters to his name. Having studied at the Warsaw Academy of Arts, he specialized in poster design and painting and later worked as a Graphic Designer and illustrator for several publishing houses. As a poster designer, he collaborated with Poland’s largest film distributors, Polfilm and Film Polski to create posters for American films.

Romuald Socha

Romuald Socha is a postwar and contemporary artist whose work has been offered at auctions many times. His work shows an emphasis on surreal, visceral, and visually shocking imagery.

Rosław Szaybo

Rosław Szaybo ​(August 13, 1933 - May 21, 2019) was a Polish Graphic Designer, illustrator, and photographer. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and received diplomas from both the poster and painting workshops. Professionally, he worked as an artistic and creative director for large institutions and designed posters, exhibitions, album and book covers, as well as satirical drawings. His work shows an emphasis on surrealist and tachist influences, as well as experimentation with the use of photographic techniques in posters.

Bronisław Zelek

Bronisław Zelek ​(1935 - February 28, 2018) was a Graphic Designer, poster artist, and author of typefaces. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw under Henryk Tomaszewski and was known for his original and captivating posters. He specialized in portraying horror films in posters, and was skilled at implementing stills and aesthetic colors as well as blending images and typography. He often modified stills to such a great extent that they were reduced to the background or an abstract element of the poster. His unique style was shaped by historical events, during a time period when Western designs were mocked and avoided, and Polish artists were greatly respected for creating their own alternative style.