"It misses the point to ask me what scenes in my paintings 'mean'. Simply, I do not know, myself. Moreover, I am not at all interested in knowing."--Zdzislaw Beksinski
If Alex Grey shows people the light inside of themselves and humanity at large then Zdzisław Beksiński shows us the other side of humanity in paintings that feel like an acid trip gone wrong.
While he denies that there is any "meaning" behind his art, there definitely is one as you look over his paintings and start to see the motifs he repeatedly uses and where his inspirations come from.
The point of contrast in the above piece is the same as the one in my previous analysis of the Occupation of Paris by Tom Lovell. The baby signifies hope in Tom Lovell's picture and similarly the baby here is the point of contrast in terms of color but it looks pale and struck with terror rather than radiating hope it feels very hopelessness and insignificant to the forces around it. The scene feels like a still out of footage of a nuclear bomb destroying everything around it.
Hieronymus Bosch was known for his use of motifs of burning castles and he definitely takes some inspiration from him here and in his other nightmare landscapes. The strange perspective of the painting reminds me of a game like antichamber or illusionist paintings. On the left is a doorway but this doorway doesn't look like its connected to anything, since what starts out as a concrete wall slowly transitions into a pale background for the smoke from the burning castle to sit in. On the right side we see a dead tree and in the center we get a trail of blood that leads us into what looks like a oasis in a nightmare landscape. The colors make it feel cool and inviting and we get the sense of infinity from the suggestion of the white light in the center of the walkway.
John David Ebert points out in his article on Beksinski's art that his art does have a meaning and he argues that his art is about how symbols that used to define entire civilizations, such as the cross, have lost meaning in our post industrial world. The juxtaposition of the phrase "In this sign, you will conquer" next to a decaying body in a Crucifix form becomes a interesting way to say this since the scene clearly illustrates that the phrase "in this sign, you will conquer" no longer applies.
"In the posthistoric civilization which we now inhabit, all such transcendental signifieds have been deconstructed and dismantled. They no longer function as they once did, as master signifiers to organize an entire civilization. The metaphysical age, as Beksinski shows in his 1975 painting, has gone up in flames all around us."- John David Ebert
The fall of Christianity was predicted by Friedrich Neitzsche who predicted that if the value structures of Christianity were to weaken in western civilization then they would be replaced with either Nihilism or Nationalism. He ended up being right in both instances in the 20th century with the rise of the Nazi party being the obvious example.
While his work is incredibly dark and unforgiving, I always get the feeling of a very spiritual artist behind the pictures. There does seem to be rays of hope in his work here or there and they appear otherworldly and transcendent, not unlike Alex Grey's art. In his art symbols, that once defined us, have lost their power and become meaningless in today's world of the consumable image. Maybe this is what he meant when he said not to bother looking for meaning in his paintings.