• Denholm Hewlett

[Art] Zdzisław Beksiński (1929-2005)

Immerse yourself into the otherworldly artistic universe of Zdzisław Beksiński, the "Nightmare Artist" of Post-WW2 Poland.

Zdzislaw Beksinski is among the most innovative and influential Polish artisans of the modern age. He was an extraordinary painter, illustrator, photographer and sculptor with an unbelievably vivid and fertile sense of imagination and a real breathtaking talent for painting and drawing.

Beksinski is best recognised for his hauntingly subversive post-apocalyptic horror paintings known as the “fantastic” series. These immensely atmospheric and confrontational oil paintings convey a profound sense of unsettling dreamlike mystery and are often dark and disturbing in nature, capturing our universal primal fascination for the macabre. This period of work explores the realms of dystopian surrealism, magical realism, fantasy dream-logic and the dark uncharted depths of human consciousness.

Zdzislaw Beksinski was born 24th of February, 1929, in the town of Sanok, home to a third of Poland's Jewish population. After living through the horrors of WW2, the Holocaust, and the soviet decimation of his Polish homeland, the young Beksinski began to capture the atrocities of the world around him by manifesting his inner nightmares onto paper and celluloid, exploring his fascination with darkness, death, anxiety, dreams & decay.

"I wish to paint as if I were photographing dreams." ~ Beksinski

These immersive dream-scape oil paintings combine an unorthodox mixture of surrealist architecture, spiritualism, eroticism and war violence to produce gothic and gruesome doomsday scenarios - Hellish dystopian landscapes populated with nightmarish figures, emaciated prisoners, soviet soldiers, demonic overlords, odious desert monsters and armies of deformed skeletons. Beksinski paintings are timeless, inter-dimensional abstractions, painted with the artists trademark precision and immense attention to detail.

All of these mesmerising and visceral 'Baroque' paintings were left untitled by Beksinski, he didn't believe in bestowing names to his paintings and running the risk of having his creative work being misinterpreted by the viewer. The artist insisted that there was no deep meaning to his work, so he left it up to the observer to comprehend each of his paintings as he or she so desires.

"Interpretation is imposed by others. Speaking immodestly, Paintings are to be admired or contemplated, admired without asking what it means. If I had something to say, I would write it down or say it. I don't need painting for that. Meaning is meaningless to me. I do not care for symbolism and I paint what I paint without meditating on a story. If my art is about anything, It's solely about the mood and atmosphere"

The artist was an unusual character, he never visited museums and did not admire or take inspiration from any great artists, he was the master of his own creative universe. He always listened to classical music while he painted and claimed that music was his biggest inspiration as an artist.

Aside from refusing to title for his paintings, he also showed no interest in organising exhibitions of his own work, it wasn't important to him. Despite the disturbing, doom and gloom aesthetic of his work, Beksinski was known to be a charming and pleasant man with a sharp sense of humour with a high level of intelligence and artistic self awareness.

Beksinski originally studied Architecture in Kraków and began designing buses for an auto-company in Sanok. He started experimenting with photography in his spare time and caused controversy in Poland’s art world with his image "SADIST'S CORSET" (1957), a far cry from the traditional nude portrait, this bold image renounced all of the rules and mantras of conventional Pictorialism or "pure photography". The image depicts a naked woman whose body is obscured and divided into segments with metal wiring, disturbing and yet somehow liberating.

The abstracted compositions and distorted stylistic elements in Beksinski's early photographic experiments would ultimately bleed directly into the sadomasochist visual aesthetic of his futuristic oil paintings. Beksinski would eventually quit photography altogether years later as it was starting to limit his imagination and artistic possibilities, he soon transitioned into painting.

Beksinski steadily developed his own unique visual aesthetic using oil and acrylic paints while constantly pushing the boundaries of the status quo. He was always confidently drawing his provocative and harrowing artworks during the era of strict communism in Poland, a strange time after the chaos of WW2 when modern artists were frowned upon by my soviet government.

The artists work was initially criticised for it's "lack of humanism" and it's apparent nihilism, for allegedly painting "abstract humans" with deformed and denigrated bodies, often in humiliating or painful situations, but the artist insists that his work is not about capturing other humans, it's a representation of himself, a reflection of his own experiences, fears, obsessions and desires that are unattainable in real life but can be manifested through his art.

Zdzisław Beksinski's success as a painter brought a global audience to contemporary Polish art and his paintings went on to define the aesthetic of heavy metal with many of his images being repurposed for album covers. Beksinski's style is often compared to H.R. Giger, the Swiss painter who designed the infamous xenomorph creature for “ALIEN” (1979).

"Beksinski's powerfully unique paintings are such as I have never before seen"~ H.R. Giger

Despite the morbid nature of his work, the unquestionable artistic qualities that Beksinki possessed make him one of the most respected and original creative minds of his generation. He gained international acclaim for his ingenious oil paintings which managed to encapsulate mankind's inherent fascination for the macabre and mysterious underbelly of human nature.

After a lengthy career, Beksinski was tragically murdered at the age of 75 in 2005. A museum was established for the artist in his hometown of Sonak in 2012, featuring over 600 of his paintings and photo negatives.

~ Check out a gallery of Beksinski's untitled paintings ~

To gain a deeper insight into Beksinski's creative process, check out the video links below of the artist in his home studio, painting with his trademark precision whilst listening to his favourable soundtrack of classical music.

~ Psychic Garden