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Sheridan Sun: Profile of an artist: Zdzislaw Beksinski


Imagine what it would be like to become self-aware in the middle of a haunting dream. A desert stretches before you, the dry wind howling silent among the calcified stumps of trees. A withered wraith kneels before an empty cradle, rocking it with a skeletal hand. A starving man crawls through the ruins of a burning city, his face bandaged and bleeding.

These surreal images are the work of renowned Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski. His world was full of nightmarish landscapes, disturbing figures and dread monoliths towering over desolate wastelands. While Beksinski described his style of art as baroque or gothic, art patrons today can only describe it as macabre.


“At first, you’re not sure what you’re looking at. The more you look at it, though, the more little details you notice,” said artist Sandra Nowak, 33, of Mississauga. “You can tell he was a very detail-obsessed type of artist. I wouldn’t even try to figure out what his art is supposed to mean.”

A gesture Beksinski himself would appreciate. It was said that he bristled against attempts to classify his work. He was especially annoyed by art critics attempting to decipher the hidden meaning in his paintings, insisting quite simply that there was none.

One would suspect that the artist behind such unsettling and bizarre creations would himself be plagued by a host of personal issues – yet Beksinski himself was always described as happy and jovial. Born in 1929 in Sanok, Poland, Beksinski began dabbling in architecture before entering the art world.

Focusing first on photography, he studied the interplay of light and shadow in monochrome images – an influence that remained visible in his work throughout his career.

Entering his “middle period,” Beksinski began to paint – always accompanied by classical music, to set the mood. His most famous imagery comes from this period. Among the most prominent examples is a pencil-sketch of a blind marble statue, its face gazing out toward some indeterminate horizon; a ship of the dead, silently sailing a black oily sea; and what has to be his most recognizable image: the skeletal visage of a Nazi SS trooper undergoing a gut-wrenching decay.

As he aged, Beksinski began to diverge toward the abstract – his later works were studies of form, rather than texture, and he began to experiment with sculpture.

Sadly, his later years were plagued with misfortune, with the death of his wife followed by his son’s suicide barely a year apart. The artist himself met a tragic end in 2005, murdered by a neighbour’s son over a refused loan.

This story originally appeared in the Sheridan Sun.

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Written by tomczerniawski

March 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

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