Today we celebrate a happy anniversary: Zdzislaw Beksinski’s birthday! The artist was born in Sanok, in southern Poland on February 24th, 1929.
In 1947, under his father’s pressure, Beksinski entered the faculty of architecture at the University of Technology in Cracow (then part of the AGH University of Science and Technology). He graduated in 1952 and started to work as a site manager for a state construction company. Although he was drawing since his childhood, it was only in 1953 that he became seriously interested in photography, painting, and sculpture, probably to escape the job he doesn’t appreciate.
Beksinski’s artistic career began with photography, a field in which he became recognized quickly, gaining the appraisal of the professionals and participating in many exhibitions in Poland and abroad. Already in those early works, his contemptuous attitude towards reality is easily perceived; he seeks to transform it according to his own vision. It is actually because of this approach that he was also fascinated by photography, which he saw not as a way to represent objective reality, but was attracted to its “chemical”, artificial and “treated” aspect, corresponding to his “hatred of everything that is « nature »”. Similarly, in his drawings of this period (the 1950s – early 1960s), Beksinski sometimes pushed the expressionist deformations so far that the link with reality becomes almost non-existent, bringing his works closer to abstraction.
In the 1960s, Beksinski abandoned photography and concentrated on his drawings, paintings, sculptures, and reliefs, in which he experimented with form, materials, and artistic processes (such as acid treatment, cooking, polishing, etc.). Simultaneously, he continued to draw, creating at first medium-sized works made by pen or ballpoint pen. Then, in the early 1970s, he moved towards larger sizes, created by using black chalk. Those works are stylistically and thematically very close to Beksinski’s paintings. Oil paintings appear late in the artist’s career – he presented them to the public for the first time only in 1970 – but they quickly know a great success. Those paintings usually represent a fantasy world: strange and desolate landscapes and mysterious creatures, mummified or skeleton-like. Those works are both proof of his fantastic but unsettling imagination and of his impressive mastery of this difficult technique of oil painting. Besides, well-known for his perfectionism, Beksinski could spend several days working on a canvas, only to abandon the almost completed piece and start a new version over the previous one.
The first important exhibition of Beksinski’s work was organized in 1964 in Warsaw. It presented mostly his drawings and caused a mixed public’s and critic’s reaction. In the following years, Beksinski continued to participate in various individual and collective events, but it is only his exhibition at the “Contemporary” gallery in Warsaw in 1972 that revealed him to the general public.
In the 1980s, the artist acquired an international reputation – mainly in France, Germany, Belgium, and Japan – mostly thanks to Piotr Dmochowski’s efforts, who organized several exhibitions of the artist, published books and articles about him; financed, and produced the movie “Tribute to Beksinski”. In 1989 he also founded a Beksinski’s gallery-museum in Paris, where he presented the artist’s works until the gallery’s closure in 1995.
In 1999, the Historical Museum in Sanok, which holds the largest collection of Beksinski’s works, organized a major monographic exhibition, confirming his position as a famous artist. Paradoxically, Zdzislaw Beksinski was an extremely introverted person: already in 1977, he left his hometown where he became a celebrity, and settled in Warsaw, probably expecting to merge into the anonymity of the capital. Moreover, he has never even traveled abroad – going as far as refusing a grant from the Guggenheim Museum in New York – or participated in the openings of his exhibitions.
Happy birthday, Zdzislaw Beksinski!