Published February 24, 2023
“I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams,”
In his art, Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński captured the unsettling underside of human consciousness. He specialized in the field of dystopian surrealism and weaved his fascination with death, decay, and darkness into his body of work. At the same time, Beksiński was also into eroticism, abstractionism, and Eastern mysticism. During his time, his work was often compared to Hans Giger, the Swiss painter who designed the extra-terrestrial creatures for the famous 1979 film Alien.
Interestingly, all of Beksiński’s paintings are untitled as he wanted to avoid any metaphorical interpretation. He paid little attention to trends in art and had no interest in praises from critics. He avoided public events including his own exhibition openings and almost never visited museums and galleries. Beksiński instead focused on his dreams and obsessions and turned them into art which eventually won him great popularity. He became an active photographer in the 1950s and some of his works were described as surrealistic-expressionist. One of the most famous photos is called “Sadist’s Corset” which shows his proclivities towards sadomasochistic themes. In the 1960s, he produced a number of sadomasochistic drawings and by the end of the decade to the mid-1980s, he began working on his “fantastical” series. In this period, the predominant themes in these oneiric works are hellish landscapes depicting disturbing figures and unearthly grotesque architecture, earning him a name in Poland and bringing him recognition abroad.
Beksiński’s style changed and he entered a period he described as “gothic” which represented deformed heads and less dreamlike figures which display a specific plastic harmony. Having grown disappointed with the limited possibilities of altering his photos, he turned to drawing and painting and also sculpted briefly and created several abstractionist reliefs. Painting would ultimately turn out to be the medium best suited to his vision and by the 1990s, when computer editing became possible, he was able to add surrealistic alterations to his photographs and his career came full circle as he returned to his first medium. After having had his first successes as a painter, he was fired from the bus factory in 1967. Afterwards, he worked exclusively as an artist.
Over the years, Beksiński’s art inspired many visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers. In Poland, his works influenced rock musicians, and the creators of the point-and-click adventure video game Tormentum. The notable Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro, who directed the Oscar-winning film Pan’s Labyrinth, is a known admirer of Beksiński’s works. A Polish film about the family’s life after 1977,The Last Family, was released in 2016 to much acclaim. Today, many of his works can be seen in the collection of the Czestochowa City Gallery in Poland.