Friday, 6 February 2015

In the long tradition of Polish poster art.....

 
Kaja Renkas, Ryszard Kaja Exhibition, offset lithograph poster, Poland, 27 x 39 inches / 68 x 98 cm, 2013.

Kaja Renkas is a young Polish graphic artist and designer of posters. This is the story of my ongoing encounter with her art... MO 4/16

Discovery......

Discovering a new artist is always exciting - you see a work which pricks your interest. You look for another by the artist, and another, perhaps saying to yourself: "I like that. I like this artist's work. I don't exactly know why, but I do....." And so the journey begins. If they are well known or historic - for example - Vincent van Gogh, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo or Andy Warhol - then the journey is easy, for publications, commentary, videos and ephemera relating to the artist exist and are accessible. You can start with a Wikipedia entry, or perhaps borrow a picture book or published biography from the local library to get an overview of their life. You study the artist's time line and from there, if you so desire, hone in on a particular period or aspect of their work. You may even just stick to a single piece of art, or an event, and delve into its history. If, on the other hand, your subject is contemporary, young, little known and from a non-English speaking country, then the task is made especially difficult for one such as myself, if you happen to be located in a small Australian town, far and away from the cultural hubs of Europe and the Americas. There may be precious little about the specific artist at hand to satisfy your craving for information and imagery - no books, articles, or interviews to add to your store of knowledge; no local exhibitions to view the work, either singly or in a unified group. What to do? Thankfully the internet and social media have made it easier to track down modern and foreign artists with some ease, acting as they do as digital archives of content, and allowing one to develop an overview of any relatively unknown artist's life and work in a short period of time. That overview may consists of just a few brief paragraphs, and the art observed might be nothing more than some small thumbnails located through a Google images search, a listing on an auction site such as Invaluable, or poorly photographed items for sale on eBay.

Kaja Renkas
The reason for this introductory ramble is the fact that on Friday, 6 February 2015, I discovered - for myself - a new artist: Kaja (Kai) Renkas. Polish, she has been working since 2004 primarily in the field of poster design - an area in which Poland has long excelled - and employed in that country's secondary and tertiary education sectors teaching graphic art and design, alongside freelancing. I came across her work circuitously and serendipitously. It is a story worth recording, if not for my own remembrance, but also to highlight how you never quite know what is around the corner.

Posters as fine art

Some background: I live in Australia, and since the late 1990s have collected movie posters - from a variety of countries, in different subject areas and covering the early twentieth century through to recent times. King Kong to Star Wars, Smiley to Picnic at Hanging Rock, Audie Murphy to Scarlet Johansson, lobby cards to 3-sheets. Australian, Russian, American, English, German. My tastes are eclectic and personal. My collecting and research interest includes, for example, Polish posters of Australian movies, with the first identified example by Henryk Tomaszewski - father of the modern Polish poster - in 1947 for the movie The Sundowners, and my personal copies dating from the Eureka Stockade poster of 1954 by Witold Chmielewski. This is significant, because since the late 1940s Polish movie, circus and exhibition poster art has been at the forefront of innovative graphic design and artistic variety, with many of the major Polish artists earning a living from Communist State-supported poster commissions. Polish posters therefore have more than half a century as some of the most interesting and artistic ever produced. A good example, and of relevance to the current discussion, is Jan Lenica's 1958 poster for the play Wizyta Starszej Pani (The Visit) by Swiss dramatist Friedrich Durrematt.


Lenica - a prominent Polish poster artist - has utilised collage in a homage to the German Surrealist artist Max Ernst, producing a distinctly interesting and strange poster which in may ways is typical of the Polish poster movement during this period. The variant on Ernst's Loplop half-man half-bird holding a disembodied head whilst seated in a long flowing dress was a reflection of a play in which ordinary people are transformed into grotesque and enigmatic figures. Countries such as Cuba, France, Hungary and Czechoslovakia have similarly excelled in poster production and design, though to a lesser extent, with Poland leading since the middle of the twentieth century in the presentation of the poster as art. A brief lapse following the fall of Communism in 1989 has seen a resurgence in the new millennium, with a coterie of young artists and graphic designers reinvigorating the so-called Polish Poster School. The tradition continues due, in part, to Poland as a nation recognising and supporting its artistic heritage through significant private and gallery collections, alongside international poster exhibitions held on a regular basis. The old Communist State-sponsored commission system no longer exists, replaced in part by commercial enterprise and the support of cultural and community institutions and individual benefactors. Of course the artists of that country remain inspired by their heritage and strive to keep the tradition alive. Lenica is one of the those who inspired.

 Exhibition of posters by Kaja Renkas, Galeria Absurdalna, Katowice, March 2015.

As a collector I look at a lot of posters, both historic and contemporary, online and in print. Browsing and researching are part of the joy of collecting. Post World War II Polish posters usually stand out, for their beauty, artistry, variety and sheer quirkiness arising out of an affinity with twentieth century Dada, Surrealism and Abstraction. Edgy, erotic and neurotic, they were printed in their thousands and dotted the streets of a bombed-out, post-war Poland, adding colour where there was none, proving biting satire which was otherwise not allowed, and presenting a public art which was neither political nor preachy. My fascination with Polish posters has waxed and waned over the decades, but I have continued to maintain an interest through monitoring online auction sites. One of the regular auction sites I check for posters - eMoviePoster.com - in January 2015 had for sale a Polish poster which I found visually interesting and thematically intriguing. It was very different to the normal run of mostly American movie posters offered on the site. These are rarely spectacular, and commonly simple productions. They can be hand drawn, cut and pasted as in collage, photographed, or photoshopped works composed of scenes from a film, close ups of actors, or basic drawings with associated text in large, standard fonts. Many lack what could be termed artistry. They are not generally considered works of art or of gallery standard. There are exceptions of course, especially from the silent era when stone lithography was a dominant printing technique and required the hand of the artist to produce the final work. Two good examples of poster art are the German poster for Metropolis 1927 and the graphic design work of Sal Bass for numerous Hollywood films during the 1950s and 1960s. Movie posters exist as items of popular culture and graphic design. Their rarity - being mostly fragile and ephemeral - production quality, intrinsic value as historic records of the motion picture industry, and inherent beauty often ensures their worth, warranting collection and preservation by both individuals and institutions. The poster I came across on the auction site that day in late January 2015 was not a movie poster, but publicity for a 2013 art exhibition. It was also quite exotic, if not erotic. The image - or rather, the artwork - was a photograph of a naked woman from what appeared to be the early 1900s, seated in a meditative lotus-like position with hands raised and palms visible, looking straight ahead in an almost trance-like state.

Ryszard Kaja, Kaja Renkas exhibition, offset lithograph poster, Poland, 27 x 39 inches / 68 x 98 cm, 2013. Series: Kaja dla Kai / Kaja for Kai.

She bore a slight smile beneath painted lips and was regaled in jewellery about her head, arms and chest, with breasts exposed in light and shadow and wearing what appeared to be a clam-shell bikini bottom. Her skin was delicately tattooed and the background was ornately detailed, presenting as a sky above a black silhouetted skyline of pointed parapets. A thick black border framed the work. Like the Buddhist goddess Tara, the woman projected a strange tranquility and beauty. The poster itself was printed in a golden sepia-like monotone with occasional small, purplish ornamental items such as butterflies. Highly elaborate and quite exquisite, it was the work of renown Polish poster artist Ryszard Kaja (b.1962) and had been produced for an exhibition of works by fellow artist Kaja Renkas (b.1979) as a homage to her work. The scant information gathered from the poster auction site intrigued me - who were these two Kajas and what was this work all about? In what way was Ryszard Kaja reflecting the art of Kaja Renkas? How much of this poster was Kaja, and how much Renkas? I immediately went to Google and carried out searches on both artists. I did not much warm to the work of the former, who is recognised as one of the leading contemporary Polish poster designers. His art was, to my eye, stark, graphically speaking, though modern and innovative. The Renkas poster seemed an exception, being warm and luminous. As my personal tastes tend towards complexity, softness and beauty, it was the posters of the latter artist - Kaja Renkas - which immediately attracted my attention. They were highly detailed, colourful, cheeky and drew me in, in that intangible way an artwork of quality and visual intensity can do. I wanted to know more about the artist and her work. Further searching on Google located some 60+ posters by Renkas presented in a digital montage on the website of Berlin's Pigasus Polish Poster Gallery.  

http://www.pigasus-gallery.de/renkas-poster.php
A montage of 60 Kaja Renkas posters, from the Pigasus Polish Posters Gallery site, February 2015.

Whilst visually spectacular, exposing both the variety and singular identity of Renkas' oeuvre, the montage was deficient in that it provided nothing more than a title to each digital image. Elsewhere, there were over 90 works by the artist on Pinterest, but once again precious little descriptive information was provided for individual works. The Polish Posters Shop commercial website went further and included some 26 Renkas posters for sale, with each entry providing details such as size and poster type. I needed to know more. I therefore began the process of listing and describing some of the posters on this blog (see select list below). I did this mainly for my own interest, but also to draw together anything I found and to assist in the task of enhancing my understanding and appreciation of the works. This blog would be a record of what I found, and assist in bringing the work of a young Polish artist to the attention of an English-speaking audience. I began it on Friday, 6 February 2015, and, unbeknownst to the casual reader, it is ever expanding and being updated.

Kaja Renkas - the artist and her work

Who is Kaja Renkas? The internet quickly revealed aspects of her life and art in the form of numerous digital images of posters, paintings, postcards and attendance at public events. A few YouTube videos recorded Renkas speaking at exhibition openings, all of which were in a foreign languages such as Polish or German e,g, Epicentrum Gallery 2009 | Relic Gallery 2010 | Malej Gallery 2010.

Opening of the Kaja Renkas exhibition at the Epicentrum Gallery, Chelmek Sport, Recreation and Cultural Centre, 4 December 2009. YouTube video.

Some brief biographical and descriptive information was posted on gallery and poster sales websites, many of them in Polish and much of it repetitive. Two Facebook sites existed - one for the artist and her friends, and the other a generic site for fans of her work. Finally, the artist's own website was available in both Polish and English. The most informative material, biographically speaking, and the only substantive available in English, was the text accompanying an exhibition entitled Infirmary of the Subconscious, held at the Tavern of Fine Arts, St. Louis, Missouri, during April 2014. The brief introduction to the artist and her work on that website read as follows:

The bizarre world of Kaja Renkas’ posters has little in common with the conscious world and much in common with a lucid dream-like state. Playful collages narrate the imprint of an imperfect memory wherein mismatched objects spill over, perceptions become disrupted, reality gets distorted, skin gives way to transparency, and all beings undergo fragmentation and metamorphosis. At the heart of her work, and holding the chaos together, is a sensual and reflective visual fiction of intrigue and mystery, inviting the viewer to voyeurism. We watch the exposed female form turning away, the masculine operating curious machinery, both sexes diverting themselves while being brought ever closer to the forbidden, to the erotic, and to that which is difficult to understand or to cure. The images are ones of confinement - boarders, archways, cages, and fashions hold the subjects captive, terminally on display. But their far-eastern ornamentation also suggests freedom, escape, and travel, themes that run deep in the Polish psyche as a younger generation frees itself from the struggles of a former Poland, only to find new challenges as Western values and culture emerge.
 
Kaja Renkas has been working as a professional artist since 2004. She makes graphics, posters, and paintings. She works at the University of Silesia, the Art Institut in Cieszyn, and the Silesia Higher School of Information Science in the Graphic Department where she teaches painting and design. Renkas has participated in major international poster competitions in Warsaw, Bolivia, Tehran, Lahti, Toyama, and Moscow where she has won awards and honours. Her works are in private collections and museums around the world. She had several solo exhibitions in Poland and abroad and has participated in numerous group exhibitions throughout the world.

The exhibition's curator and author of the above piece was American Chris Smenthkowski. He placed Renkas within the context of Polish poster production since the end of World War II under the former Stalinist regime. He also noted in an associated Facebook posting that: Renkas' work similarly undermines the market's emphasis on the literal and the kitsch, employing an almost Bruno Schulz-like craft of the surreal, fantastic and absurd.

Surreal? - yes; fantastic? - not necessarily; absurd? - perhaps. Bruno Schulz's bleak, black and white portraits of emaciated victims of the Nazi ghettos is replaced, at the hand of Renkas, by a colourful, though at times sombre, collage of faces and facets, flesh and flowers. Smenthkowski's reference to Polish poster art tradition highlights the significance of Renkas' work and it's increasing recognition on the world stage. The Polish artist portfolio website interia contains an extensive CV, including a list of exhibitions derived from the artist's own website. Additional information indicated, for example, that the Pigasus Polish Poster Gallery in Berlin had hosted two exhibitions of Renkas' works, one in May 2011 and another in October 2014, whilst there were two exhibitions in the United States during that same year. Since 2009 Renkas has shown work extensively in her native Poland, throughout Europe and as far afield as Japan, South America, the United States and Wales. She has also presented workshops in the latter two countries.

Kaja Renkas, Satyrykon, Legnica Cultural Centre, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013. 

Renkas initially studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland, where she received a Presidential Scholarship in 2003 and graduated with honours in printmaking the following year. During 2007 she commenced lecturing in Graphic Design at the Silesia Higher School of Information Science and in 2010 gained her PhD from the University of Silesia, Katowice. Renkas commenced teaching and demonstrating there in 2011, and is currently (2016) an Assistant Professor / lecturer in the Department of New Media at the university's Institute of Art. Her doctorate was on the circus - CYRK - in the Polish poster tradition, and around that time she produced a number of printed works on that theme. Subsequent to that she moved into an area loosely based around surrealistic collage, working in the digital environment and utilising software such as Photoshop, though incorporating found and real objects and images which were scanned into the computer. Collage as a technique is almost musical, being grounded in improvisation and giving rise to a composition which can be harmonious in its fusion of different, disparate elements. Like a classic pop song, a good work of collage possesses, amidst the maze of animate and inanimate objects, a unity and uniqueness which is evident but inexplicable. A Kaja Renkas collage ranks highly as it is in no way forced or fragmented, for it exhibits a unity of purpose when is both unsettling but pleasing to the eye. Beautiful and intriguing works of art, her posters possess an internal logic which, rather than being off putting, tend to draw the observer in. Renkas' posters have been largely produced by the machine-based offset lithographic process, and on occasion with manual screen printing. She has also applied her graphic design skills and artistry to published material such as postcards, calendars, videos and books including catalogues, along with traditional painting and the application of her print designs to fabrics. But what of the poster work - what makes it so distinctive, so different, and so special, at least in the eyes of this writer?

 Kaja Renkas exhibition [video], Relic Gallery, Silesia, Poland, December 2010.

 Exhibition opening [video], Lublin, Poland, April 2015.

Kaja Renkas posters

The art of Kaja Renkas, as revealed by the more than 100 posters and paintings readily accessible via the internet, is, broadly speaking, in the European Surrealist tradition. Having said that, her work is entirely unique in the manner in which art historical influences are presented. Any attempt to label it must therefore extend beyond the simple Surrealist catch-all. Like the great German Dada and Surrealist artist Max Ernst, Renkas uses collage to create multi-layered images which are modern in their use of antiquities such as old photographs and engraved plates. The work of Australian artist Martin Sharp during the 1960s and even the American member of Monty Python, Terry Gilliam, from the following decade comes to mind when viewing a Renkas poster, with all four (Ernst / Sharp / Gilliam / Renkas) engaging in a crazed, colourful and ultimately satirical use of Surrealist collage. Their work arises, in part, from the intellectual anarchy of Dada and related early twentieth century movements. Dismembered limbs, bodies, flesh and mechanical contraptions are placed in a phantasmagorical landscape which is neither dream nor nightmare. The art of Kaja Renkas is noteworthy for this very fact, namely, that it can, in a single instance, be familiar yet fresh, welcoming yet inexplicable, and beautiful while at the same time disturbing, though never grotesque. If anything, it presents a late nineteenth century, pre World War II sensibility, reflecting the recent rise of Steampunk and renewed affection for an era when humanity was not yet a slave to technology. The disconnect between nature and machine was real. The body and the artefact, or mechanical device, are therefore, in the art of Kaja Renkas, mere pieces in a jigsaw of the mind.

Kaja Renkas, Moved Imagination - Surrealism in Polish posters, offset lithograph, 27 x 39 inches / 68 x 98 cm, 2014.

Renkas' raw materials include turn of the century photographs of naked women, corseted clothing, drawings of copulating pigs and fluttering butterflies, the faces of men looking crazed and bewildered, bodies with the heads of birds and animals attached, and a Surrealist / Steampunk sensibility in the use of cages, contraptions and bits and pieces of machinery to create fantastic and bizarre objects, which may or may not be conjoined to flesh and bone, and the latter hidden or organs surgically exposed. Her female torsos are often imprinted with highly ornate patterns in the fashion of tattoos, enhancing their innate beauty and erotic qualities. The artworks feature decorative borders of anything from traditional patterns to hissing snakes and bones. Alchemy and the occult is hinted at, but, like religion and spirituality, never directly stated. The subtle colour palette of sepia ground with watery purple, pink and red highlights is nothing less than warm and engaging. Of course no simple description can address the complex nature of such work. The appreciation is primarily in the observing. Understanding may or may not be necessary, and is often dependent on clues provided by the artist amidst the maze of objects, images and text. "I like it" can be enough. And in the absence of a body of commentary on the artist's work, which can be lost in translation between Polish and English, it will have to do for the time being. First up though, the image tells us all, exposed to the world by an artist with a unique vision.

 Kara Renkas exhibition at Cracker Jak, DeKalb, Illinois, 2014.

Internal, external

The exhibition of Renkas' works at the Cracker Jak, DeKalb, Illinois in 2014, is revelatory in that the posters were hung like washing on a clothes line, in a seemingly haphazard manner which placed them in sync with the surroundings - a shop selling antiques and collectibles. The complexity of the shop floor melds with the detail of individual posters and the string and wire of the hanging to provide a multi-dimensional maze of art and antiquity, flesh and machine, colour and grace, from below to above. Of course the art of Kaja Renkas has not evolved in isolation. It is very much of its time - as is all great art - and an example of early 21st century artistic expression utilising new technologies whilst incorporating objects and images readily at hand. It draws influences from the past and present, from Poland and beyond. Steampunk, travel, digital imagery, the internet, film, media and technology are just some of the elements that play a part in Renkas' evolving artistry, building upon the traditions of the Polish poster school as it existed from the 1940s through to the late 1980s. Hers is different and connected. For example, the American artist Winona Cookie has developed a collage style similar to Renkas in the use of historic photographs, antiquated machinery and ornamentation. Cookie's small collages on canvas use a black, grey and gold palette. They feature the photographed faces of women and men from the past, alongside a collection of artifacts placed haphazardly within the frame. Less colourful, more nostalgic and colder than a Renkas collage, they strangely evidence a lack of Surrealistic heritage, yet are nevertheless interesting and, as suggested, of their time. Cookie's published works, often in the field of Steampunk, are more colourful than her canvases and closer in style to that of Renkas, though the two artists come to their respective fields of endeavour from widely differing artistic traditions. Cookie's art is quaint and unemotive, almost craft-like, whilst Renkas' is darker, bigger, erotic, edgy and somewhat anarchic in the best Dada / Surrealist tradition, whilst exhibiting the constraint demanded of the medium of the poster. Cookie's cutouts are mostly one-offs; Renkas posters and publications address a mass market and actively engage with it.

Looking back, looking forward

Online translation is an imperfect process. On the improve, it still misses out on individual words, nuances of the language and, in some instances, whole sentence meaning. Nevertheless examples of original Polish commentaries on the art of Kaja Renkas are offered within the blog. It is hoped they will reveal something of Kaja Renkas and her modus operandi. For example, during 2013 Ola Wilk wrote a detailed personal review piece on Renkas' art, whose title A severed hand and fork in the brain referenced one of her most famous and beautiful posters.

A severed head and fork in the brain

Materials that inspire her are collected at flea markets, shops and sometimes on the internet. She is then left with a head full of ideas, imagination and a mass of unusual associations. The art of Kaja Renkas reveals a special talent. She most commonly applies the collage technique, utilising old photographs, cards and postcards. I recently discovered her posters thanks to the Wroclaw Polish Poster Gallery. She had created for them a wonderful advertising poster. A hand cut off, exposed skull, fork in the brain, the wings of an insect - all linked together in an interesting way on one sheet of paper, which is very much to my taste. At that point I knew I wanted to write something about Kaja. In addition, I was intrigued by one of my favour posters relating to Ryszard Kaja - it is very beautiful, very capable, an artistic poster which goes against the current trend and recreates a world of old posters, postcards and prints. Renkas did the poster for an exhibition of Kaja's work and made reference to it in her recent talk to the Tarnow Travellers Club on her visit to Burma. This poster was the beginning of the cycle KAJA FOR KAI, which was created by accident but, as I have subsequently learned, will have its continuation. Collaboration between these two phenomenal artists has resulted in something  very unusual, and I wait impatiently for the next item. Renkas loves to travel, hence her presentation to the Travellers Club. She last visited Central Asia and was charmed by the peacefulness and kindness of the people. This was a inspiring place for the artist who enjoys travelling, exploring new places, engaging with new cultures and meeting people. Such encounters stimulate creativity. Kaja does not use travel agents, but enjoys the freedom of doing it on her own, with no restrictions or impositions. In 2010 she completed her doctorate in the the field of posters and graphics at the Art Institute of the University of Silesia. The subject was the circus, which is something you will not experience now, or only very rarely. And fortunately, just as I love the posters, so I hate the circus. I also agree with the artist that circus posters were some of the most prominent and amazing of the Polish poster school. She remembers exploring the history of the circus as a fascinating experience. Art, the magical photography of Diane Arbus and Witkin, posters and stories around the glory years in Poland - all inspired the artist to create a great series of posters that are fantasies about the disappearing circus through her eyes. Recently she designed a poster for Satyrykon. The festival has a tradition of asking the best artists to participate, and the work produced is usually at a high level. This year, the results were beautiful, thanks in part to the work of Kaja.

"Sex is good for our health. Let's take care not to endanger it!" is the slogan for a social poster competition in which Kaja participated. The competition was part of a social campaign promoting sexual health. The aim of the campaign was to overcome the shame of sexually transmitted diseases and encourage people with sexual health problems to consult a doctor. The competition was organized by the Association of Graphic Designers and Sexual Health Promotion Foundation. Anyone who is interested in the results of the competition can check the STGU archive of events. It is a laudable goal and a novel idea, but to convince Polish people in regards to this health matter is like trying to dig a hole to the earth's core with a table spoon.... Kaja sent her poster to the contest, and whilst it was ultimately eliminated, it was subsequently issued by Krzysztof Dydo of the Krakow Poster Gallery. And that was terrific, because the poster did not deserve to end up buried in a closed drawer, or in a folder labelled: "No", "Rejected" or "Undesirable". Krzysztof Dydo is the founder of the Krakow Poster Gallery, which is based on his private poster collection. Dydo often works with graphic designers, ordering copies of poster designs that can be seen on the Gallery website. Kaja Renkas designed some amazing posters at the request of this Krakow collector. One advertises a collection of Krzysztof Dydo, others include "Delikatessen", "Wings of Desire" and "The Other Boleyn Girl", the latter two being movie posters designed especially for the Gallery. Also worthy of attention is the poster for the exhibition "La erotica del cartel polaco". 

Kaja admits that she likes to work with institutions who are open to ideas and allow her freedom in design. Without a doubt, these are the Krakow Poster Gallery and Wroclaw Poster Gallery, but she also mentions the District Museum in Nowy Sacz, for which, from time to time, she designs catalogues. Kaja's current work can be seen at the 16 Wilanów Poster Salon in the autumn, and she is planning more Wroclaw Poster Gallery exhibitions. Kaja also indicated that individuals who would like to buy her posters can contact can her through Facebook or her website. Kaja's posters are also available for purchase at the Wroclaw Poster Gallery, the Polish Poster Gallery in BUW, the Poster Gallery in Krakow and at the Pigasus Polish Poster Gallery in Berlin. 

I asked her about the situation regarding the Polish poster because, although there is a lot of talk about how it is not in a healthy state, I was looking for confirmation of this theory, or of the opposite in regards to wishful thinking or naive faith that it will be fine. Unfortunately Kaja sees it this way: "The state of the Polish poster is different from the past, but it's not the fault of the designer, rather its the taste of a small market, promoting the obvious clichés and with an emphasis on the obvious and kitsch. That, unfortunately, I think at the moment you cannot change, so you have to just rely on intelligent clients who trust the designer, and are sometimes willing to take a risk." In light of this, my hypothesis about the impending rebirth of Polish poster splendour falls away, and whilst it may not happen right now, I hope it will do so some time in the future. The Kaja Renkas poster for the film "Sposób na kryzys" renews my belief in this, for it fulfills two roles. First - it advertises the Polish documentary directed by Iwo Kardel. Second - it solves the problem of kitsch and boredom in the poster. You can only hope that the posters we see on the street will be as good as this one, and those responsible for the selection of advertising, film and event posters will be bold enough to allow artists an amount of creative freedom.

Renkas' statement on the state of the Polish poster school was subsequently quoted on the website of the Silesian Agency for the Promotion of Art. Renkas' art may, in the eyes of some, be risky, but it is definitely a risk worth taking. In an article by Beata Wozniak entitled Collages from the past - Kaja Renkas and published online in February 2014, the writer posed an interesting question at the outset:

Collages from the past

What are the inner most thoughts of an artist, if the heroine of one of her works has wings, a corset and instead of a human head there is a bird with a fish in its beak? Kaja Renkas answers that these images are the result of engagement with old anatomical atlases or pre-war photographs. Such treasures are found at the antique fair in Bytom. One such book is Dr. Anna Fischer-Duckelmann's Woman as a family doctor. Produced during the late nineteenth century, Kaja spends hours reading it and finds the book a handy source for collages. She began producing posters only after studying graphics at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Katowice. One of her early works was entitled "Fad" and was created spontaneously for a friend's teahouse in Bytom. This was followed by more designs for friends and events including, for example, a fictional wedding. Finally she received numerous commissions, such as movie posters from the Polish Poster Gallery in Wroclaw and Poster Gallery in Krakow, along with invitations to do posters for the Legnica Cultural Centre on Styrykon and on the twentieth anniversary of Renata Przemyk.

"Commissions do not bother me. I think it is an interesting experience to do something on a particular topic", explains Kaja. Anyway, she can always incorporate the themes which she likes best. Recently these have included wings, brains, intestines and fish. These are the letters of her artistic language. When you run out you change to another. She works in a true collage technique, but her pair of scissors have been replaced by Photoshop. "With the Roman Clieslewicz poster - I admire, cut, glue, append. I'm working on the computer. Sometimes the only thing I end up printing has been downloaded, but I also scan in material", she explains. "It is very accurate, and I can vary indefinitely the shades of pink I user or move elements about the composition. This is totally different then in real life as you are not overwhelmed by bits and pieces of paper. The place where I am now I describe as "drifting in a state of equilibrium" and I am very happy with this. It is not good to only see set goals in front of you, as you can get disappointed if something fails. The situation is that I am doing the work that I want to." Renkas values freedom, working at the university, and travelling, having just returned from the island of Phuket in Thailand.

In an April 2014 article for the Polish Ostpol magazine on the new era of young Polish poster artists, following the collapse of the traditional school with the fall of the Communist government in 1989, her work is highlighted as an example of artistry overriding the new commercial imperative. It includes comments by Renkas, while the author Wiebker Schonherr addresses the issue of the commercial imperative versus artistic integrity:

A fantasy world of eroticism and alchemical experimentation

The question facing many artists today is that their job is a tightrope walk: How much am I willing to give up my artistic principles to satisfy the demands of commercial clients? The graphic designer Kaja Renkas does not need to ask herself this question. In the old city of Katowice, a former southern Polish industrial city, the 35-year-old has recently set up a small studio and installed there screen printing equipment with which she can make multiple copies of her own posters. Instead of having to bow to the pressures of the market and be forced to design only advertising posters, she can focus on work for galleries and cultural institutions. 

"The private companies are not interested in beauty, they do not want in-depth content, they only want to promote their products in the simplest possible way," she says soberly. To support herself financially she teaches art at the University of Katowice. For pleasure she uses her free time producing posters and looking for customers who appreciate artistic content. 

"I see myself as an artist," she says. "I try to work for clients who know my art and appreciate that I am doing an excellent job and at the same time do not overly interfere."

The viewer of her works is taken into a fantasy world of gloomy, erotic, alchemical experimentation, machine elements and the intersection of animals with human bodies. For a gallery in Wroclaw Renkas designed a poster for Tom Tykwer's Perfume. She painted a young girl squeezed into an apparatus of pipes that go beyond the creation of a fragrance and transforms into flower blossoms. 

"I see my posters in the tradition of the Polish poster art school," says Renkas. "But I cannot, of course, compare my works with those of the great masters."

Kaja Renkas in her studio with silk screening apparatus, April 2014.

A review of her exhibition at the Legnica Cultural Centre in 2014 noted the positive popular response to a previous showing there:

Satyrykon 2013

When last year we saw Renkas' rather unusual, meticulous, anatomical diagram or "organic-mechanical" construction for the Satyrykon exhibition, many observers claimed it was their favourite poster. One could vaguely associate it with the artist Bogna Otto-Wegrzyn, but only for a moment, because, apart from use of the collage method, both the artists and their vision is very different. It could immediately be seen that the Satyrykon poster was not a single experiment, but an integral part of the artist's original world which is once again seen in this year's Legnica Cantat poster. This is a world built from fragments of antique photographs, engravings, old anatomy and mechanics textbooks, atlases of flora and fauna and fragments of printed wallpaper imprinted upon the body like lace tattoos.The oft frequently repeated motifs demanding explanation include: insect wings, cages and corsets (and a corset cage), charming yet sinister plants, and Frankenstein-like structures revealing that anomaly is the norm, the essence of being, and a basic element of the imagination. The vamp, a praying mantis, an androgyne and other figures of decadence, even if you treat them with off-hand humour, could be said to lie within us all. The art is both enobling and tortuous, sublime yet tame. There is finesse in her use of artifice, exposing complicated relationships between the conventional and affectation, as well as the magical moment which can arise, all within expressive borders repeating some of the aforementioned motifs.

The art of Kaja Renkas, whilst unique, is part of the long and proud tradition of Polish poster production. To the untrained eye it may appear beautiful but inexplicable. To those in the know there are references to past art movements such as Dada and Surrealism, and the use of collage within those fields. Kaja has brought the art of collage into the 21st century in a new and distinct way, combining traditional cut-and-paste techniques with the digital-only Photoshop platform to provide us with a timeless vision of the relationship between the body and the mechanical. Woman and machine have occupied our minds since the onset of the industrial revolution, however in amongst the inanimate objects we find flesh and bone, passion and compassion. From 1927 and Fritz Lang's Metropolis robot, Max Ernst's Loplop and the corseted, bird headed and tattooed female bodies of Kaja Renkas, the attempt to reconcile the inhuman with the human is profound and ongoing. The complexity of the artist's work reflects the combination of the real and the fantastic in the subconscious and dreams of everyday existence. As in a Renkas poster, I too sometimes feel like a bird wanting to pack my bags, wrap myself in a coat and fly away on a mythical Jules Verne adventure. I am also part human, part machine as I sit at my work desk each day, a mere cog in the wheel of industry. I dream of freedom from constraint, of colour and beauty, flesh and flight, with the wings of the butterfly silently transporting me to a realm of contentment, like Tolkien's Niggle or Buddha in his quest for enlightenment. I am confused, like a fish out or water or a bird in a cage. I see and feel all this, reflecting in the work of Kaja Renkas.

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A SELECTION OF POSTERS
2008-2017

It has been variously indicated on the web that Kaja Renkas has been working in poster design since 2004, however the author has only located items dating from 2008. The following is a brief listing of select posters and printed publications by Kaja Renkas, plus a few by Ryszard Kaja relating to her work as part of the Kaja for Kai / Kai for Kaja series. The items listed below represent only a small portion of Renkas' output between 2008-2016 and have been selected largely according to the tastes of this writer. Descriptions are in English, with Polish text included where possible. English translations are preferred as this blog is written for such an audience, though links to original descriptions and commentary in Polish are given. The posters are generally of standard dimensions: 68 x 98 cm / 27 x 39 inches. Postcards and other published works are smaller. The posters are arranged below in chronological order, with the most recent first. Note that some of the works listed here as full size posters may, in fact, be smaller - or larger - works, as the author has not sighted original copies.


2017



Animation Festival, 2017.


Surreal Space / The Screens / The City, 2017.


Dialogi Przestrzeni, 2017.

Minsk, 2017.
 
Transformation 8, 2017. 

Transformation 7, 2017. 


Transformation 6, 2017.

Transformation 5, 2017.

Transformation 4, 2017.

Transformation 3, 2017.

Transformation 2, 2017.

Transformation 1, 2017.


Nauseous Circus, 2017.
     
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2016

The Polish Poster Exhibition, 6-15 May 2016, Shanghai, China.

Plakat Fest, 2016.

Polish Animation, 15-17 April 2016

Kaja Renkas Poster Art Expo, 17 April 2016 

Festival Szkol Teatralynch, 10-15 karch 2016. Renkas also produced an animated advertisement for this exhibition.

Opening of Gallery Imago Art, Katowice, Warsaw 67, 4 November 2015 - 8 January 2016. The exhibition features clothing utilising the art of Kaja Renkas.

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2015

Kaja Renkas exhibition, Municipal Public Library, Opole, November 2015. 

Kaja Renkas exhibition, Municipal Public Library, Hawk-Zdroj, 8 October - 8 November 2015

Kaja Renkas - Ola Korzus, 2015.

Plakatow Witkacy, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2015. Poster exhibition of the Christopher Dydo collection at Torun, including works by Kaja Renkas.

Legnicka Akademia Filmowa, August 2015, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm.

 Ryzard Kaja, Eksraordynaryjna Alchemy, June 2015, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm. Wrocklawska Galerie, Poland. Poster for exhibition of works by Kaja Renkas. Series: Kaja dla Kai / Kaja for Kai.

 Before Festival, July 2015, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm. Poster for a jazz and literature festival.

Kaja Renkas exhibition, Lublin, April 2015.

Happy Easter 2015. 

Slow Festival, 2015.

Sadecki Park Etnograficzny, 2015. 
Fixed Impression, 2015. 
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2014
 
Ryszard Kaja Plakate, Pigasus Gallery, Berlin, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2014. Poster for an exhibition of works by Ryszard Kaja. Renkas has created a number of such posters for her friend and colleague.  This one features a bird-headed man seemingly about depart on a journey to Berlin by sailing ship.  This half-human, half-animal which is a common motif in her work. Its antecedent is Max Ernst's alter-ego Loplop.


Infirmary of the Subconscious – Contemporary Polish Posters by Kaja Renkas, offset, 68 x 98 cm, 2014. Produced in connection with the artist's first US exhibition, held during April 2014 at the Tavern of Fine Arts, St. Louis. The use of the butterfly motif - either a whole insect or simply dismembered wings - is common in Renkas' work, both as a decorative feature and also a Surreal body appendage.

 
 Cracow Poster Gallery, offset lithograph, 68 x 98cm, 2014. Exhibition poster featuring a cat-headed semi-naked female figure, with a small budgie-like bird in her hand, as though contemplating whether or not to eat it.

Tragedy of a seduced woman, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2014.

Kaja Renkas Posters, by Ryszard Kaja, offset, 68 x 98 cm, 2014. Limited edition of 200 copies produced for an exhibition at the Pigasus Polish Poster Gallery, Berlin. This poster by Renkas' friend and colleague Ryszard Kaja reflects the latter's Galeria Plakatu poster of the same year, featuring a formally dressed female figure with exposed breasts and semi-transparent skirt. The butterfly wings of the original work are replaced here by two birds in hand. Kaja has also referenced Renkas' Legnica Cantat poster of 2014 with its unadorned dress frame.

 Legnica Cantat 45, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2014. National choir competition poster. A typically surreal collage, with dismembers hands, the heads of birds on the skeleton torso of females; butterfly wings and implements, with pink and pale purple highlights and ornamental border along the top edge. The placement of text is similarly haphazard.


Revenge, the  cove for River Styx magazine, 2014. The use of the lion's head in the poster, next to a human male head-on-a-stick, is unique amongst Renkas' work, with a preference for bird heads on torsos. The severed arm and butterfly wings are typical in Renkas' oeuvre, as is the turn-of-the-century bodice and clothing. This poster is also distinguished by an ornate border of bones and twin snake heads, with jaws extended as in attack. Combined with the replacement of the severed arm by a metallic claw, this poster is perhaps the most menacing of the artist's work to date. The title -Revenge - suggests an anger which possibly drove it's creation.

Revenge 2, cover of River Styx magazine, 2014.


 Caradiso, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013. One of a series of works by Renkas in which the mechanical subsumed the human. In this instance the body of a beautiful woman is replaced by a wheeled machine with butterfly wings. 

 
  Galeria Plakatu, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2014. Promotional poster for the Wroclaw Polish Poster Gallery. A beautiful Surrealistic collage featuring a woman with severed limbs, butterfly wings, exposed circular breasts and a fork applied to her skullless brain.

Renata Prezemyk koncert, 2014.

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2013
 
 
Polnisch Poetisch, 6 Abende/ 6 polnishe Lyrikier, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013. This poster was subsequently issued with a book of Polish poetry.

Pachnidło, Tom Tykposterług powieści Patricka Suskinda, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013. Limited edition art poster inspired by the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

 Ryszard Kaja exhibition, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013. Exhibition poster.

 
Satyrykon, Legnica 2013, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013. Renkas was invited to submit a work to this international arts event at the Legnica Cultural Centre.


 Spoiwa Kultury Festiwal, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2013.


Sposob na Kryzys, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm. 2013. Poster for a Polish documentary by Iwo Kardel.

  Postcard, 2013. One of a series of 8 postcards produced in association with the Nowy Sacz Regional Museum and the Via Galicia museum exhibition. At the time the artist was also involved in the production of a calendar, video and catalogue. She noted: The project involves eight postcards associated with each of the branches of the Regional Museum in Nowy Sacz. The museum asked me to develop the concept of a video based on archival materials, mostly photographs that aesthetically please me. For now that is my proposal and each museum will choose the type they want. The multimedia project was finally completed and launched in December 2014.

  Postcard, 2013.

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2012
 
Wystawa Plakatu Kaji Renkas, 2-7 July 2012, offset, 68 x 98 cm, 2012. Exhibition poster.

Wystawa grafiki "3", offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2012. Exhibition poster. 

Rownolegosc Struktur, 2012.

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2011

  
Kyzysztof Dydo Poster Collection, Cracow, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2011. Exhibition poster. Features a bewinged, bird-headed woman eating a fish. She is clothed in a corseted dress and tattoos of leaves cover her upper body in part.

Wings of Desire, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2011. Inspired by the Wim Wenders film. Designed for the Krakow Poster Gallery.

La Erotica del cartel Polaco / Erotica in Polish posters, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2011. Exhibition poster.

Amusement Park, 2011. One of a series of photomontages around this theme.

Imago-Art, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2011. Poster for Imago-Art, a collaboration between clothing designer Dominiki Maniek and graphic designer Kaja Renkas. See the archived Imago-Art web page here: Imago-Art (Polish).

  CYRK / Tattoo, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2011. A feature of the poster design work of Kaja Renkas is the use of turn-of-the-century photographs of naked women, with tattoos and ornate designs transposed upon their skin, and dismemberment associated with the addition of animal heads. The results are more beautiful than grotesque, and the pale sepia and pink colouring accentuates this.


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2010
 
The Other Boleyn Girl, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2010. Inspired by the film of the same name. Designed for the Krakow Poster Gallery. This poster is very much in the style of a segment of traditional Polish poster design - a flatish, black on plain background graphic design, though with the Renkas elements in the lower section of an ornate layer. The disembodied eyes are a traditional Surrealist motif.

 The City of Lost Children, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2010. Poster inspired by the French film of the same name. Designed for the Krakow Poster Gallery.


Delicatessen, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2010. Poster inspired by the film.

 Delicatessen, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2010. Poster inspired by the film.

Kicz Party 2010.

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2009
Sex is good for our health - we should take care not to endanger it!, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2009. Campaign poster competition design. The competition was organized in 2008 by the Association of Graphic Artists and the Foundation for the Promotion of Sexual Health. Kaja did not win the competition, but the poster was released the following year by Krzysztof Dydo of the Krakow Poster Gallery. 

 
Extraordinary Circus, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2009. One of a series of circus-themed posters produced around 2008-10.

 Circus Valencius, offset lithograph, 98 x 68 cm, 2009. Renkas makes repeated use of the head of a pig in her posters, usually attached to a human body.

 Cyrk, offset lithograph, 98 x 68 cm, 2009. One of a series of circus-themed posters produced around 2008-10.

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2008
 
Cyrk Jupiter, offset lithograph, 68 x 98 cm, 2008. Renkas' doctorate focused on the subject of the circus in Polish poster art and there were a number of works by her arising out of this. The doctorate was granted in 2009. Though relating to the theme of the circus, her work contains elements of Surrealism which are reflected in part here.

Links

Kaja Renkas, Facebook [artist website], available URL: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kaja-Renkas/116139861857380. [Polish and English]

Kaja Renkas [portfolio website], available URL: http://saps.kastelnik.pl/portfolio/kaja-renkas/. [Polish]

Kaja Renkas exhibition, fur[g]aleria [website], available URL: http://www.furgaleria.pl/a/84/Kaja+Renkas. [Polish]

Kaja Renkas, Pigasus Polish Poster Gallery, Berlin [website], available URL: http://www.pigasus-gallery.de/renkas-poster.php. [German]


Kaja Renkas Exhibition - Infirmary of the Subconscious, Tavern of Fine Arts, St Louis, Missouri, April 2014 [webpage], available URL: http://tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/artist-kaja-renkas.html.

Kara Renkas Exhibition at Cracker Jak, DeKalb, Illinois, 2014 [news report], available URL: http://www.examiner.com/article/kaja-renkas-contemporary-polish-poster-exhibition-opens-at-cracker-jax-dekalb.

Kaja Renkas Portfolio [website], available URL: http://kajarenkas.w.interia.pl/-mainen.htm. [Polish and English]

Organ, Michael, Ned Kelly Polski - Australian Films in Polish Posters, 2009, available URL: http://www.uow.edu.au/~morgan/posters5.htm.

-----, Polish Posters of Australian Movies [webpage], 2006, available URL:  http://www.uow.edu.au/~morgan/posters3.htm.

-----, Kaja Renkas posters [blog], 6 February 2015, available URL:  http://krposters.blogspot.com.au/.

-----, Kaja Renkas, Wikipedia [webpage], 22 July 2015, available URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaja_Renkas.

Posters - Poland - Renkas [webpage], Pinterest, available URL: https://www.pinterest.com/pospag/poster-poland-renkas/. 90+ images pinned as of 7 February 2015.

Rawika, Dobrochna, Wywiad z marką Medicine oraz graficzką Kaja Renkas. Kulisy limitowanej kolekcji, Shemag, Poland, 14 July 2017, available URL: http://www.shemag.pl/fashionbeauty/fashion-beautystyle/medicine/.


Wilk, Ola, A severed hand and fork in the brain [webpage], 2014, available URL: http://www.robmydobrze.pl/serce3/. [Polish]

Wozniak, Beata, Collages from the Past: Kaja Renkas [webpage], February 2014, available URL: http://www.weranda.pl/sztuka/obrazy/15228-kolaze-z-przeszlosci-kai-renkas. [Polish]

Author: Michael Organ
Acknowledgements: Thank you to the artist Kaja Renkas for her generosity in sharing information with me and assisting in the compilation of this website.
Last updated: 25 September 2017