Zdzislaw Beksinski was a Polish artist whose work is gothic and nightmarish. His works are surreal and dystopian, often emitting an air of melancholy. During the 1960s he transitioned from being a photographer to becoming an artist. He survived World War II, and lost both his wife and son. One can say that his work was influenced by his own tragic life. Yet, he was adamant that he didn’t know what his art meant. Additionally, he never gave his paintings any titles that may influence interpretation. Beksinski, at the age of 75 years old passed away. Robbing the world of not only a genius man but also of more of his art.
He has created over 700 artworks. This makes it impossible to interpret all their meanings. Still, there are some themes that are quite prominent.
Beksinski known as ‘The Nightmare Artist’, is worthy of his title. His paintings seem to be able to capture the abnormal amount of fear that one feels when having a nightmare. It captures the primal terror of situations that are uncontrollable and saddening. A sensation that is amplified during dreams.
His works often incorporate spectral figures that seem to tower over the viewer. The atmospheres of the paintings are slow and hazy, as though time itself has slowed down. It is like the feeling of depression, a brain fog that confuses and slows down everything around them. It feels suffocating, dizzying and unfamiliar, a dimension far away from this world.
If I attempt to imagine myself as part of the paintings, a range of emotions come forth. Terror is the first, a fear of the unknown, a result of the artist’s renderings of unfamiliar creatures. The longer one looks at the art, a feeling of adoration and awe begins to creep in. The talent of the artist and the joy of being able to experience a dream whilst still being awake is phenomenal.
Despite the paintings’ grim appearance, they are quite colourful. A mix of dull and bright shades are tactfully thrown onto the canvass create splendid pieces of art. When Beksinski uses red it is usually the colour our eyes notice first. It is loud and overpowering, the same as the feeling of fear. Yellows make the paintings feel nostalgic, like yellowing pictures taken many decades ago. Blue seems to be a positive colour, a sort of beacon of hope or a comforting character. It stands out from the depressing mood of the rest of the painting and creates a sharp contrast.
Take, for example, this painting. A blue cloaked figure towers over a cradle, presumably with a child inside. Despite its terrifying appearance the figure has a soothing aura. It does not emit malice and seems to be comforting and distracting the child from the crucified man. The message I get from this painting is that death, is actually a kindness. That it is better than witnessing the horrors of the world.
Some creatures in his works resemble human figures but at the same time seem to transcend the human form. The “people” in his paintings are small and gangly, usually crouched down like wild animals. Contrary to the status of humanity in our world, it seems that they are like insignificant cattle. They are usually in large groups following one another, huddled together like sheep. There are no distinguishable features, there is uniformity.
This painting shows people entering the mouth of a monster by themselves. This may mean that humans are the cause of their own suffering. They bring despair onto themselves.
The ginormous creatures feel as though they represent abstract and intangible ideas. The afterworld, death or mental disorders are some examples. These things consume the people and overpower them.
Religion seems to have an effect on Beksinski’s work. In many paintings there are crucified people and allusions to heaven and hell. Yet, In the Beksinski Audio Tapes he states he is “not religious.” He felt like the paintings could be interpreted as “more metaphysical than religious”.
One can try to guess what was going on inside the painter’s head. However with hundreds of paintings and little explanation from the artist himself, attempt is futile.
Beksinski has said that he hates symbolic interpretation. He feels people should enjoy the art for the “mood and atmosphere” as that is what his art is about. Thus that it is best not to try to base the interpretation of the painting on the artist. The emotions we viewers experience are the best signal of what these paintings may represent.