A lecture of the Bydgoszcz Academy of Art.
Karol Śliwka (1932-2018) was an extremely versatile artist. He studied at the Department of Painting of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (diploma in the study of Prof. Eugeniusz Eibisch, 1959). He drew, painted, sculpted and took photos. In 1957, during his third year of studies, he won a nationwide competition for cigarette packaging. This success determined his interest in applied graphics. I said to myself – he mentioned in one of his interviews – that I would like to do everything related to applied graphics and do it well. Thanks to the fact that I didn’t study applied graphics, my head was free to create something new. This form completely absorbed me, I loved it and devoted a lot of time to it. I studied by myself, I didn’t have a teacher. He decided that art graphics is art for art’s sake, and applied graphics is art for society’s sake.
For sixty years, he co-created the iconosphere of our public space. He designed posters, albums and books, album covers, album covers, postage stamps, packaging, and, above all – extremely popular trademarks, brands and logos, established in everyday life and in our memory. He designed some 450 graphic signs, hundreds of labels, packages, posters, stamps – from the famous piggy bank for PKO, logotype of the Institute of Mother and Child, National Library, School and Pedagogical Publishing House, Scientific and Technical Publishing House, Society of Friends of Warsaw, Smyk Department Store, General Directorate for Roads and Motorways, Adamed company, “Jedyna”, “Amateur”, “22 lipca”, “Belwederska”, “Łazienkowska”, “Saska” and “Delicja champańskie” chocolate packagings for Wedel company, “Bis” washing powder, the most popular men’s cosmetics from the times of the People’s Republic of Poland – “Wars” brand for Pollena-Uroda, “Syrena”, “Giewont” and “Morskie” cigarettes, to covers of Karol Szymanowski, and “Mazowsze” folk group albums.
The famous PKO piggy bank, called “śliwka” (plum) from the last name of its author, appeared in 1968 on a poster promoting the slogan “October – a month of savings”. The poster won the gold medal at the 3rd National Biennale of Polish Poster in Katowice (1970), and the piggy bank found its permanent place in the consciousness of Polish women and men.
Graphic signs, logotypes and posters invented by Śliwka have become an everyday element of the Polish visual and informational landscape. Jens Müller, author of the monumental publication on the history of graphic design “Logo Modernism”, published in 2015 by the publishing house “Taschen”, mentioned Karol Śliwka as one of the eight most important contemporary graphic designers in the world. In their memoirs, the artist’s colleagues say that they usually did not take part in competitions if they knew that Karol Śliwka was participating in them – for it was certain that they had no chance to win against his ideas. He used to say about his exceptional work: Signs, these small graphic works contain a huge amount of content, information, metaphors, they are the essence of knowledge about the company’s industry and its identity. Creating signs is drawing a word to be remembered. It is to be the pride of the graphic designer, a dignified graphic diamond of our times. That is how I understand this kind of art.
He created a multi-coloured, multi-threaded world of graphic works that serve people on a daily basis, with a considerable amount of lyricism, subtlety and sensitivity to the reality of life. It is easy to read their message, the information contained in them, and solve a thoughtful metaphor. The recognizable logotypes by Karol Śliwka are distinguished by their synthetic form, visual finesse and harmony between the content layer and the graphic idea, and their excellent correlation, as well as by the economy of the typography used. Despite the passage of time, they are still inspiring, easy to decipher and understand, evoking reflection. And although the artist most often used traditional graphic arts, in the era of electronic gadgets and technological novelties, his projects still function well around us to this day. The artistic output of Karol Śliwka is worth special attention, interest and remembrance.
Jerzy Brukwicki (1945) – art critic, curator of exhibitions, journalist. Long-standing head of the “Pokaz” Critics’ Gallery in Warsaw. In the 1980s, the author of dozens of independent exhibitions, such as Polish Pieta, A Time of Sadness, A Time of Hope, Presence, Against Evil, Against Violence Anniversaries, posters for “Solidarity”. Editor and publisher of the independent culture magazine “Wybór”, the editor of the underground social weekly “Przegląd Wiadomości Agencyjnych” (PWA), collaborated with publishing houses NOWA, Przedświt, Pokolenie. He has organized many exhibitions of contemporary Polish art in Polish and foreign museums and galleries. Author of texts on art and artistic events (e.g. “Exit”, “LOT Kaleidoscope”, “Pokaz”, “Kunstmarkt”, “Polish Culture”, “Reklama”, “Rondo Europa”, “Spotkania z Warszawą”, “Warszawski Informator Kulturalny”, “culture.pl”, portalmini.eu.)
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