Born In: Sanok, Poland
Iconic Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński, a pioneer of Polish contemporary art, is remembered for his contribution to the genre of dystopian surrealism. While he initially studied architecture, Beksiński later began his career as a construction site supervisor and worked as a bus designer, too. Soon, bored of his day jobs, he began focusing on sculpting and photography. He later devoted himself to painting, mostly showcasing dark, macabre, and grotesque elements such as death and decay. His career as an artist can be divided into two segments: the “fantastic” phase (the 1960s and the 1970s) and the “gothic” phase (from the 1980s). While in the first period, he focused on dystopian and surrealistic elements, the later period saw him focus on abstraction and formalism. In his later years, he also experimented with digital technology. He was stabbed to death by his caretaker’s teenage son at his Warsaw apartment when he refused to lend him money.
Also Known As: Zdzislaw Beksinski
Died At Age: 75
Spouse/Ex-: Zofia Helena Stankiewicz (m. 1951–1998)
children: Tomasz Sylwester Beksinski
Born Country: Poland
place of death: Warsaw, Poland
Notable Alumni: Tadeusz Kościuszko University Of Technology
Diseases & Disabilities: Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder
Cause of Death: Murdered
education: Tadeusz Kościuszko University of Technology
Zdzisław Beksiński was born on February 24, 1929, in Sanok, Poland. He joined the architecture program at the Kraków University of Technology, or Kraków Polytechnic, in 1942 and obtained his MSc degree in 1952. He went back to Sanok in 1955.
In Sanok, he started his career as a construction site supervisor. He later worked as a bus designer for a factory. Tired of both these jobs, he began his stint as a photographer and a sculptor in the 1950s.
Most of his photos were surrealistic and expressionist, while he used objects from the construction site he worked at for his initial sculptures. He was fired from his bus designing job later.
In 1958, he showcased a solo exhibit at the Photographic Society in Gliwice. Inspired by French surrealism, he later became part of the unofficial Anti-photography movement.
One of Beksiński’s signature creations from this era was Sadist’s Corset (1957), which he displayed along with 14 unnamed pieces influenced by surrealist photographs by Vsevolod Pudovkin.
Beksiński used magazine reprints, faded negatives, and dictionary passages, in the form of a film narrative. He penned Crisis in Photography and the Prospects of Overcoming It in the 11th issue of Periodical Photography in 1958.
His photos inspired conceptualism, photo media art, and body art in later years. In the early 1960s, he stopped photography, as he found it restricting.
Most of Zdzisław Beksiński’s initial artworks used oil paint on hardboard panels. He also used acrylic paints.
Beksiński listened to classical music while creating his art. Some of his works of his early sketching and drawing period were Glowa (1958) and Postać Na Tle Wody (1954).
In 1964, after selling all his paintings at a Warsaw show, he began pursuing painting seriously. He started his “fantastic phase” in the late 1960s.
This phase had him infusing elements of fantastic surrealism in his works and continued till the mid-1980s. His art during this period mingled dystopian and surreal elements and had recurrent motifs such as death, decay, bones, deserts, and malformed humans, seen in creations such as Kompozycja (1960) and Stadium Postaci (1969).
From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, he included elements from Far Eastern faiths in his art, mostly due to the influence of painter Andrzej Urbanowicz. From the 1980s, Beksiński’s works used elements such as “photographing visions” and showcased the influence of baroque painting, 19th-century painting, sexuality, and abstractions.
In the 1980s and the 1990s, his works were exhibited in counties such as France, US, and Japan. He described this period as his “gothic phase.”
His popularity in the West was due to his contract with Piotr Dmochowski in 1984. Beksiński’s work was unique, as he refused to paint according to the popular standards of the art industry. While Beksiński’s paintings from the initial days reflected expressionistic dystopian surrealism, his later works featured a more formalist style and were relatively abstract in nature.
Between 1963 and 1965, Zdzisław Beksiński penned many short stories. However, he was not happy with their quality and thus decided to focus on painting instead. After being hidden for more than 50 years, his stories were compiled and published in 2015, a decade after his death.
Though his written works were mostly disorganized, Beksiński’s stories had a mix of conceptual narratives, crime drama, post-apocalyptic fantasy, and metaphysical reflections. He apparently authored 40 stories in a span of less than 2 years.
Beksiński’s sculptures too have not been too public. He believed he could not experiment with sculptures due to lack of space and proper settings. His style of sculpting too drew from abstraction.
In 1951, Zdzisław Beksiński married Zofia Helena Stankiewicz. In 1958, the couple had their only child, their son, Tomasz Sylwester Beksinski. Tomasz grew up to become a movie translator, radio presenter, and music journalist.
While Beksiński appeared cheerful and friendly to his friends, he had a dark side. He once insisted he could not comprehend what his paintings meant. He also did not like naming his paintings.
In 1977, he and his family moved from Sanok to Warsaw. However, before that, Beksiński had destroyed several of his paintings in his garden in Sanok.
He probably suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. In Warsaw, he spent most of his time indoors, working, listening to music, or watching movies. He did not like to travel or socialize. He also did not attend his own exhibitions.
In the late 1990s, Zdzisław Beksiński focused on the web, technology, editing tools, and digital imaging. Some of creations of this period were RH (1985) and KY (1985).
In 1998, Beksiński’s wife, Zofia, died of cancer at age 47. A year later, Beksiński’s son, Tomasz, committed suicide on Christmas Eve, at just 41 years of age.
Some believe Tomasz had died of a drug overdose. His dead body was found by Beksiński. Unable to bear the grief, Beksiński pasted an envelope on his wall, stating “For Tomek in case I die.”
Beksiński himself was discovered dead in his Warsaw home, with 17 stab wounds, on February 21, 2005. He had completed his last work on the same day.
It was later revealed that just before his death, 75-year-old Beksiński had had an argument with Robert Kupiac, the 19-year-old son his caretaker. Kupiac had asked him for a loan of around 100 dollars and had stabbed Beksiński repeatedly when he had refused to give him the sum. Kupiac received a 25-year sentence in November 2006.
A museum in Sanok is dedicated to Beksiński. In 2006, A Beksiński museum opened at the City Art Gallery in Czestochowa, Poland.
His photographic works can be found at the National Museum in Wroclaw. Manchester-based black metal band Wode used Beksiński’s 1985 artwork KS as the cover of their debut album in 2016. Many of Polish artist Rafael Mielczarek’s works were inspired by Beksiński.
Beksiński’s works also inspired the design of the skeleton found in the cave in the 2020 movie The Empty Man (2020). In 2021, the video game Vomitoreum, inspired by the terror imagery of the artist, was released.
The adventure video game Tormentum too was inspired by his works. Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, known for his dark films, claims he is inspired by Beksiński’s works.
The 2016 Polish film The Last Family depicted the artist’s life after 1977. Art lovers often compared Beksinski’s works to those of Swiss painter Hans Giger, who designed the creatures of the 1979 movie Alien.
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