Swiss painter, sculptor and set designer H.R. Giger, whose disturbing yet oddly beautiful designs for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) set the visual tone for an entire franchise, has died at the age of 74, reports Swiss public television, SRF. “His talent for scaring movie audiences was repeated in Poltergeist 2 (1986), Alien 3 (1992) and Species (1995). Computer game fans were able to enjoy his work in Dark Seed in 1995.”
“Born in Chur, Switzerland, Hans Rudolf Giger began his artistic career studying architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich,” notes the EMP Museum in Seattle. “Fascinated at a young age by all things macabre, his artwork showcases his interest in both human anatomy and machinery…. Giger has had more than twenty books published of his artwork. Perhaps best known among these is Necronomicon (1977),” a work whose “biomechanical surrealism” caught the eye of Ridley Scott. “Giger planned out the entire life cycle of the parasitic and adaptable creature featured in Alien.”
In 2011, io9 presented two excerpts from Ian Nathan’s book Alien Vault, the second focusing on Giger, who was “tormented” by nightmares throughout his early life. “Only if he committed these phantom visions to paper did he gain any respite. He describes his art as ‘self-psychiatry.’ … Giger has always defended biomechanics as not simply downloaded psychotrauma. ‘Sometimes people only see horrible, terrible things in my paintings,’ he asserts. ‘I tell them to look again, and they may see two elements in my paintings—the horrible things and the nice things. I like elegance. I like art nouveau; a stretched line or curve. These things are very much in the foreground of my work.’ … The late Timothy Leary, Giger’s friend and legendary counterculture psychologist, placed him alongside such surrealist shamans as William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, Ernst Fuchs, and Salvador Dali.”
At a site dedicated to a film never made, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, you can see Giger’s concept art and read his account of his involvement with the doomed project.
Sample pages from the Alien Diaries.
More viewing. Giger’s Necronomicon (1976; 77’18”).
Updates, 5/14: Ridley Scott‘s issued a statement:
I am very saddened to hear of Giger’s passing. I think back on how committed and passionate he was, and then consequently, all the security we built up around his ‘lock up’ studios at Shepperton. I was the only one allowed the honor of going in, and I absolutely enjoyed every hour I spent with him there. He was a real artist and great eccentric, a true original, but above all, he was a really nice man. He will be missed.
Shaun Usher‘s posted a “list of elements to be designed” sent to Giger in 1977 from Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, and Tom Shone‘s posted an excerpt from his book, Blockbuster, describing Giger’s approach to building the sets. “Decades after Alien hit theaters (the picture will turn 35 Memorial Day weekend), the creature’s status as the cinema’s most nightmarish beast is untouched,” argues Chris Klimek at NPR. “Even subsequent movie monsters designed by Giger, who became a hot commodity after Alien, can’t come close.”
Vulture‘s Bilge Ebiri notes that “Scott and his producers fought the Fox suits who were worried that Giger’s work was too disturbing…. Here’s the thing: The Fox suits were right. The alien was too disturbing…. It crossed a line. It was transgressive. And it immediately entered our nightmares, where it continues to kick around.” On the whole, Giger’s “images are both thoroughly other and yet, strangely familiar. Familiar not because we’ve seen them all over the place for the past several decades (though we have), but because even now, there’s something uncanny about them—like something we must have seen in a dream once as a child but tried desperately to forget. Even now, the work terrifies.”
“And he was ahead of the cultural curve in ways that only true artists can be,” adds Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com. “His work anticipated the real-world blurring of the organic and the mechanical, the real and the virtual, that powered so much science fiction and so much horror over the last thirty years. The fact that horror and science fiction have become increasingly indistinguishable is partly due to Giger’s imagery, and designs that borrowed or outright stole from him.”
“Besides making incredible art and sculptures,” writes Kimberly Lindbergs, “Giger also dabbled in filmmaking with Swiss director Fredi M. Murer and they produced a number of short films based on Giger’s work including Heimkiller and High (1968) and Swiss Made 2069 (1969). My favorite of Giger’s short film experiments is Second Celebration of the Four (1976), which was a sort of funeral dirge for his first wife, actress Li Tobler, who committed suicide. It’s an eerie, esoteric and unsettling little slice of cinema that recalls scenes from some of my favorite horror films.” Here:
“Giger worked predominantly in inks and oils at first,” notes Ryan Gilbey. “His use of the airbrush soon became integral to his art, bringing a slick smoothness to images which oscillated between the grisly and the sensuous, often accommodating both. He prized the airbrush’s ‘tremendous directness’ and said that it enabled him to ‘project my visions directly onto the pictorial surface, freezing them immediately.'”
“It was at an exhibition in Paris in the mid-1970s that he was spotted by another psychedelic visionary, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and co-opted into the movie industry,” adds Steve Rose, also in the Guardian. “Giger’s commercial success all but destroyed his credentials as a fine artist. By the 1970s, he had established an aesthetic he never deviated from: disturbing, obscene fusions of machine-like parts, women’s bodies, skulls, bones, weapons, teeth, tentacles, occult symbology. Not a particularly novel iconography, you could say, but it was really about the execution.”
“Naturally, Giger was a sought-after artist for musicians, famously creating album covers and artwork for Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery and Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist,” writes Sean O’Neal at the AV Club. “It was Giger’s ‘Landscape XX’ (or as it came to be dubbed, ‘Penis Landscape‘) for the Dead Kennedys that landed that band’s Jello Biafra in court for obscenity charges, nearly bankrupting Biafra’s record label, Alternative Tentacles. And, of course, scores of heavy metal artists from Danzig to Carcass to Celtic Frost have hired Giger, while Ibanez also drafted him to create a signature series of guitars, and Korn’s Jonathan Davis commissioned him to make a biomechanical, ‘erotic’ microphone stand.” For more on the album covers, see Jason Diamond at Flavorwire.
At Dangerous Minds, Ron Kretsch‘s posted the interview below as well as two videos Giger made for Debbie Harry.
“Giger continued to work as a designer until his late age, when his work appeared in Scott’s 2012 film, Prometheus,” notes the Telegraph‘s Alice Vincent. Adds Ben Beaumont-Thomas in the Guardian: “He later created ‘Giger Bars’ in Switzerland which used his designs for their interiors.”
Updates, 5/15: Mark Sinclair for Creative Review: “From film and music videos, to record sleeve design and video games, we look back at how his influence was felt right across the visual arts.”
“Mr. Giger opened the Gruyères museum in 1998 in a 400-year-old building,” notes Douglas Martin in the New York Times. “It includes works by Dalí and other Surrealists and an adults-only room bathed in red light. Some but not all of his movie work is on display. In 2005 Gruyères ordered him to remove a model of the Alien monster from outside the museum, saying it was not good for the town’s image.”
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