Zdzisław Beksiński

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Zdzisław Beksiński was a celebrated twentieth century Polish painter, photographer and sculptor. His forte was dystopian surrealism. He claimed his painting and drawing style was rather Baroque and Gothic. His work is divided in two periods, first dealt with the depiction of surreal doomsday scenario with expressionistic colors and utopian realism. The second one focused on abstract style with formalism at its center.

Born on February 24, 1929, Zdzisław Beksiński grew up in Sanok, southern Poland. He went to Kraków to study architecture. In 1952 he received a Masters degree in Architecture from the Kraków Polytechnic. Upon completion of his studies he returned to Sanok. The first job he was assigned was as a construction site supervisor which he had no inclination towards. That was the period when he developed fascination for painting, sculpting and montage photography. His construction site material served as paraphernalia for sculpting. He also tried his creativity at photography which would later model for his paintings. The pictures he took often featured desolate landscapes and rough surfaces which he translated into his paintings effectively.

Apprehension and agitation were often palpable in Beksiński’s artwork as he painted torn doll faces and faces that were obscured by bandages. He was quite taken with abstract paintings which he worked on for a while. 1960s was the time when he switched to more surrealist art. Despite having no formal training as a painter, he proved himself in the world of art. Another interesting feature of his painting was that he usually oil painted on hardboards panels which he created himself. Occasionally, he would also experiment with acrylic paint.

Silence used to grate on Beksiński’s nerves, hence he listened to music while he painted. Despite being a classical music fan, he listened to rock music as well. In 1964, a prestigious exhibition was held in Warsaw in which his work was displayed. All his work was sold rendering it the first successful exhibition of his career. His utmost dedication to his work was admirable and soon he became a prominent figure at the Polish arts scene in 1960s.

The late 1960s is marked as his “fanatic period” as Beksiński declared himself. This period of his career created art that presented several disturbing images manifesting the recurring theme of death and decay. The paintings featured desolate landscapes, skeletons, deformed figures and post-apocalyptic era. He commented on his work, “I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams”. He captured each image with such fine detail and meticulously that it might have been hard to tell difference between painting and a photograph.

Additionally, Beksiński refused to title his work on account of his disinterest in possible interpretations. He claimed he didn’t know the meaning of his artwork himself. In fact, he found some of his work optimistic and humorous, despite the grim backdrop and grave images it featured. In 1977, before relocating to Warsaw he set fire to a selection of his works in his own backyard. He explained the cause being the intimate nature of some of his work which he didn’t want to share with strangers and his lack of satisfaction with the other half of his oeuvre.

On February 21st, 2005, Zdzisław Beksiński was discovered dead in his apartment. He was murdered by the son of his caretaker who stabbed him 17 times. The reason behind such heinous act was Beksiński’s refusal to loan him some money.

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