Region: Poland
Concept: Cruelty
Subconcepts: Cruelty, Torture, Religion, Disfigurement

Description: Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński tried to depict visions of Hell through painting. The particularity of this painter is that he has no formal artistic education or religious upbringing. His paintings have been described as “apocalyptic,” but he himself describes them as hopeful and amusing. His inspiration for his art is supposed to have mostly come from music.

What is interesting to note is the recurring theme of “disfigurement” throughout his work. Disfigurement, the act of impairing one’s appearance indefinitely, is arguably the most intimate form of torture. Unlike other forms of torture, the victim will be unable to hide its scars and is cursed to live forever as the “muse” of its torturer. In terms of psychological damage, it would take an incommensurable effort to heal from such a wound. This is because the means by which one would start the healing process would be to confirm one’s identity as separate from the original trauma; however, disfigurement robs one of that identity. In order to deal with the trauma one would have to embrace its new identity even though it now belongs to the person responsible for the disfigurement. Managing this shift in consciousness is a prowess that would make even the strongest willed people tremble.
MMMDepictions of Hell by more classical painters such as Bosch invoke feelings such as fear, disgust and revulsion because they are directly related to the divine, and although the Bible’s description of Hell is gruesome it at least has the characteristic of being in the realm of the known. Zdzisław Beksiński’s depiction of hell provokes much more profound feelings (such as angst) because it deals with the irreversible and the unknown.

Vladimir Ullmann-Hamon