H.R. Giger and the Fine Art of the Unimaginable

Once upon a time in the rolling hills of Switzerland, there lived an artist. Not just any artist, he was responsible for some of the most internationally recognizable "dark" art of our times. He had the uncanny ability to literally put faces upon his own fears, somehow channeling many of our own in the process, and rendering the images through paint, sculpture and other mediums.

Born Hans Ruedi Giger on Feb. 5, 1940, in the south-eastern Swiss town of Chur, his fertile imagination began to show itself when, as a child, his chemist father handed him a skull. Though "holding death in your hand" frightened him, young Giger dealt with his fear by dragging the skull around the town by a string. Other brushes with overcoming his fears included regular visits to a mummy in the basement of a local museum which had terrified him at first. His nightmares ultimately led to his beginnings as an artist, in spite of his father’s desire for him to follow in his footsteps by going to pharmacy school. Instead, Giger moved to Zürich in 1962, where he studied architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts until 1970. He began to experiment first with ink and later worked predominantly in airbrush, creating images of humans and machines linked together in "biomechanical" and profound eroticism, for which he is renowned.

His art is reflective of the man, but also of the world and the possibility that these images, while ultimately disturbing for some may be a portent of what is to come. After all, aren’t we so tied to our machines and devices that we are already almost one with them?

The art itself is magnificent in execution and astoundingly detailed, and it is certainly not a stretch of the imagination that one might think the hieroglyphs etched everywhere including floors, walls and ceiling of the H.R. Giger Museum and Bar are an original language containing messages from beyond. After all, this is the man who invented the mother of all monsters from egg to slithering slimy endoparasitoid extra-terrestrial species in the movie Alien, for which he won an Oscar in 1980 for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. His 1977 book Necronomicon had provided the vehicle to bring director Ridley Scott to his door to commission him for the job. Giger's other well-known film work includes his designs for Poltergeist II, Aliens, Alien3, Alien: Resurrection and Species. One of the disappointments in his career was his unused work on designs for the Alejandro Jodorowsky adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel Dune which stalled and was later made into an adaptation by David Lynch. Giger was also uncredited in the movie theater version of Alien3, an error which was brushed off by the studio but never corrected.

Then there were the iconic record sleeves. The one he designed for Debbie Harry's Koo Koo featured the singer with spears cutting through her face. The poster insert for the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist prompted an obscenity trial, and he also designed the cover for Emerson Lake & Palmer's 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery.

In an interview with Belinda Sallin, director of "Dark Star," the most in depth documentary of the artist to date, she said "H.R. visualizes fears in such a way that after awhile, if we engage them, we no longer have to fear them, but we can accept them. I think it’s extraordinary how Hansruedi could depict the duality of existence: death and birth, Eros and Thanatos, everything being one and mutually dependent."

Regarding Giger's personal life, he purportedly had several muses while in the creative throes, the original being his first great love, Swiss actress Li Tobler. They lived an open artist lifestyle in the beginning, squatting in condemned buildings until a small inheritance allowed Giger to buy a "proper" residence. Li was the focus of a number of Giger’s iconic paintings until she committed suicide in 1975. He married Mia Bonzanigo in 1979, but soon divorced.

H. R. Giger passed away on May 12, 2014, at the age of 74. He is survived by his second wife, Carmen Scheifele-Giger, who is the Director of the H.R. Giger Museum.

He leaves an undeniable legacy that inspires pilgrimages to his museum, bar and anything one can find on the Internet. His art makes us think, and in some ways, examine our fears of the unknown and unimaginable that lurk in shadows of our own making.



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