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When I was 3, my dad decided to make a reproduction of one of Beksinski’s paintings and to hang it in the living room.
This resulted in a few not-so-bright-and-bubbly dreams, temporary fear of churches and unconditional admiration towards Beksinski’s art to this day.
Zdzislaw Beksinski, born in 1929, was raised to be an architect. It was almost a family tradition – his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were professionally involved in either architecture or civil engineering. After he finished his education, he worked as an engineer and painted in his spare time.
After winning a couple of worldwide art competitions, he left his job and started to paint for a living.
Beksinski sold every single painting after his first official art exhibition. Contrarily, Polish art critics called him a “renegade”. Their dissaproval of his art was only increasing with Beksinski’s fame – and he became internationally recognized in no time, mainly because of the frightening, imaginary creatures that were omnipresent in his works.
There is a great number of artistic measures that made Beksinski stand out. It is, for example, worth highlighting that while the anatomical features and buildings are painted extremely meticulously, the background tends to be surprisingly clean and empty.
So, he just wanted us to focus on the meaningful elements, right? Apparently, that was not the case.
According to the artist himself, Beksinski’s paintings carry hardly any meaning – which seems pretty counter-intuitive when we examine the ones that seem to be practically drowning in, mostly religious, symbols.
In the religious art of Middle Ages, plain golden (or yellowish) background was a symbol of life after death, for instance. Beksinski was also famous for his paintings of crosses.
In hoc signo vinces – “in this sign you will conquer”.
One day, Beksinski overheard a museum tour guide trying to analyse his art. When she started to make references to the Holocaust, he kindly explained that he was just trying to re-create his nightmares.
Later, to his utter bewilderment, he heard the same guide telling the visitors that “the artist has a dream, wakes up and paints it”.
The truth lies right in the middle of these two, quite sketchy, explanations. Beksinski was, indeed, using powerful symbols that are ingrained in European culture – but not in order for them to be investigated. He matched those symbols with completely unfamiliar shapes and horrifying creatures in order for the viewers to experience fear of the two “unknowns” – the religious one that existed for thousands of years, and the “unknown” that he kept in his own imagination.
That made his art unforgettable.
The family of Zdzislaw Beksinski was rumoured to be cursed. His wife died of terminal illness. One year later, his only son committed suicide. Zdzislaw Beksinski was murdered in his own house. 19-years-old boy stabbed him 17 times with a knife because the artist refused to lend him money.
I hereby declare that I have been awarded The Mayor of Gdansk’s G. D. Fahrenheit scholarship.
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham