Roman Cieślewicz’s influence on the history of poster design is hard to overstate. He was the first graphic designer ever to have a solo exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou and his works are today found in major international museum collections such as MoMA, the Stedelijk Museum, and various national museums in Poland.
The artist set out 'to make public pictures that could be seen by as many people as possible' and in the 1960s and 1970s his images were everywhere in France: in newspapers, magazines, posters in the street.
Alongside his design commissions he made original, independent works, many of which are presented in the Contemporary East sale on 7 June.
ROMAN CIEŚLEWICZ, OLD FOGEY IN DIM STOCKINGS. ESTIMATE £3,000–5,000.
The satirical photomontages Old Fogey in DIM Stockings takes an iconic painting, Ingres’ Portrait of Jean-Francois Bertin, and subverts it with exaggerated bulging eyes and contemporary red stockings and Party mischievously repurposes Bronzino’s eroticised Venus.
Warhol’s influence on Cieślewicz - both exiles from Eastern Europe, born two years apart - led to the use of repetitive collage in his work in the 1960s. Cassius Clay is a striking example of this and Andy Warhol later drew Muhammad Ali in the mid-1970s.
ROMAN CIEŚLEWICZ, CASSIUS CLAY. ESTIMATE £5,000–7,000.
Chantal Petit-Cieslewicz spoke to Sotheby’s about her late husband’s work:
Sotheby’s: Can you tell us a little bit about some of your favourite works in the group of designs we have selected for our sale?
Chantal: I love them all of course, however I particularly like Portrait-robot de la poésie. The image immediately struck me when I first saw it and funnily enough I had seen it before I even met Roman in 1979.
ROMAN CIEŚLEWICZ, PORTRAIT-ROBOT DE LA POÉSIE. ESTIMATE £3,000–5,000.
S: Could you tell us a little bit about your late husband’s work? Do you know why he decided to become an artist?
C: Roman was lively, excessively happy and excessively sad at the same time, in other words Slavic. Being a humanist, he had always been fascinated by human beings, their faces and current affairs. One certainly had the impression that he was an artist, however Roman never considered himself as an artist but as a craftsman. He lived and worked with joy and enthusiasm. He was radical, honest and of course politically incorrect. He could go through a huge workload in no time and was gifted with a hypertrophic visual memory and was extremely organised, like a computer (which he always refused to use). Roman always preferred using his own hands, a pair of scissors, paper and glue. I remember a test session at Dupont, this was at the very beginning of information technology, it had taken us four hours to copy-paste an image! Roman loved to work with paper, especially printed paper, and he always did everything by hand. He used to cut out images that had been reproduced in the press, modify them, recycle them and share them with as many people as possible.
S: What sort of people do you think collect his work? Are they as different as his work?
C: I would say that people who love and collect his work are all very visual people. They often work in the fashion industry, advertising, the arts, there are also students in graphic design. Yes, one can say that people who collect his work are as different as his own work. They are all attracted to images which make you question things. They are people who, like Roman always said ‘fight the pollution of the eye’.
ROMAN CIEŚLEWICZ, GROUP OF FOUR POSTERS: CHE SÌ (1967), THE PRISONER (1962), LENIN (1969) AND L'ART DE L'AFFICHE EN POLOGNE (1974).
S: What were his greatest inspirations? Was he influenced by his background and culture, or maybe by other artists?
C: While studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow under the tutelage of George Karolak, who shunned the official state sanctioned aesthetic of Socialist Realism, Roman was encouraged to come up with new modes of expression that weren’t subjected to the aesthetic diktat of the Iron Curtain. It was Karolak who taught him how to assemble the essential elements of a good poster. Roman was also inspired by the Blok group, a revolutionary association of poets, typographers and montagists, and avant-garde graphic artists such as Mieczyslaw Berman, Tadeusz Kantor and Ludwik Gardowski. Through Berman, Roman developed a visual language that employed the collage techniques of Alexander Rodchenko and John Heartfield to personal fixations of circles, hands, eyes, legs and lips.
S: If you could own any work by Roman, which one would it be ?
C: I would and I do own the one work he cherished the most - Le voyeur ou Louis multiple. It’s a montage from 1965. It is the one work I preciously keep.
ROMAN CIEŚLEWICZ, LE VOYEUR OU LOUIS MULTIPLE, 1965.
S: How do you feel about Roman Cieslewicz’s works being offered for sale for the first time on the global stage at Sotheby’s in the last 15 years?
C: I am very glad that Sotheby’s chose to sell Roman’s works. It’s a good thing for his international recognition. Many people have often seen his works but do not necessarily know that he was the artist behind them!
A selection of Roman Cieślewicz’s work features in the Contemporary East sale on 7 June.