Swelling lips, scattered limbs, lolling tongues. Three-dimensional title treatments. Fleshy letterforms. The posters designed by Czech artist Eva Švankmajerová from the ’60s to the early 2000s are entirely unique: they’re erotic and profuse, energetic and psychological, surreal and intensely tactile.
As painter, poet, ceramist, and writer, Švankmajerová used her art to explore the role of women in society during the transition from communism to capitalism in former Czechoslovakia. She often used symbolism informed by psychoanalytical texts to probe at gender stereotypes and to represent sexual exploitation. In the late ’50s, she met her husband and collaborator, the filmmaker and animator Jan Švankmajer, while working at a theater. They had a joint exhibition in 1961, and afterwards, Švankmajerová became art director for Švankmajer’s first film, The Last Trick (1964). She continued to work as art director for her husband’s movies for the rest of her career; Bertrand Schmitt, the director of a 2001 documentary about the pair has said, “The more I worked with Jan, the more I realized that the influence of Eva was essential. Their whole life is dedicated to their work, which takes on gigantic proportions, without separation.”
Known for her art direction and surrealist paintings, Švankmajerová’s output as a poster designer has had less attention. Yet she excelled in carving out her own approach to the form, especially in terms of integrating typography into painting. Švankmajerová’s hand-painted lettering evokes vivid sensations: when you look at a film’s title, it’s as if you can feel each letter writhe in your hands, slippy like a tongue or bristling like wood.