Zdzislaw Beksinski, one of the most outstanding contemporary painters, was born on 24 February, 1929, at Sanok. He studied architecture in Cracow, but plied this profession just for a few years. He began his career of an independent artist with photography, gaining right away the great appreciation by the artistic community and the public. But photography proved to be an episode in his life. In the early 1960's, Beksinski made up his mind to focus on drawing, sculpture and also the composition of spatial metal-made paintings--reliefs. At that time, his art was not much different from the then common conventions of artistic "modernity", a reaction to the recent doctrine of socialistic realism. But people began to mention Beksinski among those who promised most.
His success began with the first major exhibition of his paintings and drawings in Warsaw in 1964. The next exhibitions came in 1967, 1970, 1972, 1977 and 1981, confirming the rank of the artist in contemporary art. Beksinski became an idol for some, a whipping boy for others, leaving no one indifferent.
As the time passed, he began to paint more and more, at the expense of drawing, where he achieved sui generis mastership and which he ultimately abandoned in the mid-1970's. He became a well-known painter, more than that: a popular and best-selling artist, although he exhibited less and less frequently — after 1981 there has been no major exhibition of his works. In 1983, Piotr Dmochowski, a lawyer who was a permanent resident in France, became interested in Beksinski's work. First, he organized for him two large exhibitions in Paris (1985, 1986), and planned others, including those in the USA. The name of the painter, which had previously been known to few enthusiasts abroad, now became popular with the general European public.
His art has been given various labels. As long as he was an avant-garde, modern artist, he fitted perfectly the 20th-century current of abstractionism. Trouble began as he abandoned the avant-garde for drawing and representational painting. Part of the artistic community and certain critics turned away from him, considering this choice a betrayal. But the general public came in greater crowds, who could identify in the paintings mysterious visions which appealed strongly to the imagination. As the years passed, he was given the label of a maker of dreams, metaphysics, and metaphore. He was charged with surrealism, psychopathy and with a wish to shock. As for him, he always pointed out that what he was keen to do was to paint fine pictures, just as this notion had been conceived in the 19th century.
He defines his work as "photography of visions". A vision is a volatile product of the subconscious and a painting serves to fix this passing event. Thus, it is not symbolic painting and contains no additional meanings, of the sort of ones "bracing up the hearts" or those "showing the evil of this world". He who demands that alleged mysteries hidden in painted scenes, people and objects should be solved, makes a fundamental mistake: these paintings reveal realities which are beyond reason and logic. The mystery contained in these visions is related, e.g., to Kafka; Beksinski himself does not renounce spiritual connections with, e.g., Boecklin or Kaspar Friedrich. He is most strongly attracted by modernism, decadence, 19th-century precision of works, which he has, at any rate, achieved in his painting. He considers music the highest form of art. He is unable to create without music.
He was a detached and independent artist. He belonged to no groups, unions and associations, including social ones. He took no part in artistic life and was not active in broadly conceived culture. Concentrated on himself and his own internal experiences, to many, he was an eccentric, recluse and egotist. But painting was for him simply a way of life, or rather, life itself. The feeling of absurdity of existence which he always had, and which he shared with the existentialists, triggers in his art everoccurring images of death, decline and disintegration. Perhaps, this is the only message which we can read from these works — we can defend ourselves from death by various ways, e.g., by painting.
Written by Tadeusz Nyczek.