Artist Zdzislaw Beksiński is best known for his immense, obsessively detailed paintings of catastrophic landscapes, surreal humanoid figures and afflicted nudes. Born in 1929, he grew up in southern Poland, then traveled to Krakow to study architecture where he subsequently spent several miserable years working as a construction site supervisor. His work from that era is primarily photography and sculpture.
In his mid thirties, Beksiński shifted his focus to painting large, purely abstract pieces on wooden boards (he preferred wood to canvas). Eventually, their form and structure became more straightforward and he entered a self-proclaimed “fantastic period” reminiscent of Bruegel, Ernst or Bosch, and drawing comparisons to his Swiss contemporary, H.R. Giger.
Beksiński’s post-apocalyptic vision, much like Giger’s, is uniquely disturbing owing in part to a highly developed architectural eye. His manipulation of scale and manic overworking of texture is ingenious. Overwhelmingly huge structures rise up from dust or empty desert. Sinewy figures cavort under ominous skies.
Although he depicts a harrowing world, Beksiński claimed that much of his work is misunderstood. Like Kafka (known to laugh hysterically when reading his own stories aloud), the Polish painter was often amused by his own work. He insisted his vision was ultimately optimistic.
Like a cathedral or skyscraper, many of his paintings are strangely life-affirming in a shock-and-awe sort of way. Blighted lovers embrace, cheery balloons float above crumbling towers, a tiny man holds a light aloft at the bottom of a deep chasm…
But yeah, heebie jeebies nonetheless…
Beksiński claimed to abhor silence and listened continuously to classical music while he painted. He was soft-spoken but surprisingly gregarious, given his bleak body of work. In the late 90s, captivated by computer technology and the internet, he shifted his focus again, this time to digital art/photography. These pieces proved to be far less critically or commercially successful than his paintings.
Thus began a very tragic era for the man. In 1998, after years of illness, his wife Zofia died. A year later, his son Tomasz (a popular Polish radio personality and movie translator) committed suicide. Beksiński, who discovered his son’s body, was never quite the same.*
News of Beksiński’s own death in early 2005 was difficult to fathom. On February 21st, the artist’s body was discovered in his Warsaw flat, stabbed 17 times. Robert Kupiec (the teenage son of his caretaker) and a friend were soon arrested. Apparently Beksiński had refused a loan to the boy, prompting the attack. Kupiec pleaded guilty and is now serving 25 years in prison. His accomplice, Lukasz Kupiec, will be up for parole in a couple of years.
- appropriately gorgeous Beksinski website
- buy The Fantastic Art of Beksinski book
- a large online gallery
* An interesting sidenote: Tomasz, like his father, loved music, especially The Legendary Pink Dots. After his suicide, the band’s Polish reissues featured many of Beksinski’s digital art as covers, dedicated to Tomasz.