I'm here to convert you to the art, the genius and pure astounding talent of H.R. Giger. “Artist” is a term that does not even scratch the surface of what Giger is and what he has done for many dimensions of culture and for fantasy, too. Painter, sculptor, architect, innovator, genius, fantasist, creator of dreams and nightmares would go a little deeper in describing who he is, and yet, still leaves much to be desired.
He is recognised as one of the world’s foremost artists of Fantastic Realism, and fantastic is truly what his artwork is. “Fantastic realism”: Giger brings to life fantasy and makes it so real one has trouble believing his creations have not existed, or do not exist somewhere. The slight oxymoronic nature of the phrase captures Giger himself brilliantly: his work escapes definition by having a seemingly “split” personality and this reinforces the beauty and originality of his artistic endeavours.
The Swiss artist was born to chemist parents in Chur, Switzerland in 1940 and had an educational grounding in architecture and industrial design from the School of Applied Arts, Zurich. His father, when interviewed, remarked at how a man with no knowledge of art could bring into this world an artist of such immense talent.
From science comes art, and from art comes science: many of Giger’s works are a science-fiction fanatic’s pure ecstasy. One of his most notable offerings, which transcends artistic disciplines, is his work on Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), cinematic masterpiece. Ridley Scott was “never so sure on anything in my life” when he saw Giger’s third and most famous book Necronomicon (1977), which served as the inspirational fodder for the film in designing Alien as well as in the landscape of planet LV-426 where the crew first encounter the alien eggs. His work earned him the 1980 Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. However, it is saddening when the majority of fans of the film have not even heard of the mind and imagination behind its success. Alien fans reading this; make it your business to educate yourself on the man who is about to become your favourite artist and “dreamer of dreams”.
Unfortunately, the UK is not the best place to go in search of Giger exhibitions. Culturally abundant in most other areas of art, the country lacks access to what artist Ernst Fuchs believes is “one of the most important creators of fine art of our time”. At present Giger’s work can be viewed in Vienna, New York, Prague, Zurich (the artist’s current home) and of course in Gruyeres, Switzerland (of cheese fame) which is home to the Giger Museum. The four-level building complex in the historic, medieval walled city is the permanent home to many of the artist’s most prominent works and also home to one of the Giger Bars. The Gothic architecture of the 400 year old space is mirrored by the designs for the bar with giant skeletal arches covering the vaulted ceiling, stony furniture and a “church like” feature which contrast to the interesting looking, body jewellery adorned bar staff.
One film work that truly pays homage and does justice to Giger is David N. Jahn’s H.R. Giger Revealed which combines a documentary with a 3D animation of some of Giger’s work (paintings, drawings and sculpture). And Jahn certainly is in a position to give an insider’s view on Giger, having worked as his assistant for a number of years (a position many thousands of art students and fans alike would adore to be in).
The documentary seeks to illustrate just how magnificent Giger is as an artist instead of an insight into his history or personality. Giger’s reluctance to give interviews nowadays is due to the belief that he has said everything he has wanted to in, undoubtedly countless, previous interviews following his work on Alien, Species and album covers including Debbie Harry and ELP’s, and does not wish to repeat himself.
Certainly, Giger seems to be a somewhat shy and reclusive character if not absent minded, exuding personality nonetheless. And often with genius, come the quirks and desire to exist basking in and exploring the wonders of the depths of their imagination. What Giger possesses is the “HOW”, the technical skill in realising the plot of the stories his mind unfolds and the “WHAT”, that is the imaginative power to create such intricately detailed images.
However, the detailed surface textures of his paintings in no way detract from what it is he is presenting to us. The sheer fact that Giger can propel one into the abyss of our own imagination is something many artists lack, although in the case of Giger’s works one can be equally spell bound by abandoning that imagination and taking a free ride on what we see before us. One psychiatrist remarked that never had he seem anyone who manages to extract the experiences of the psyche and portray them so amazingly and it is hard to disagree with him.
Watching Giger’s Art in Motion, one begins a forty minute journey of awe with the 3D animation of his art married perfectly to sound effects and music. The aural dimension mirrors the obscurity of his work and enhances and heightens the experience edging the mind to go further into the realms of fantasy. Ten of Giger’s pieces are brought to life as the camera scans over them allowing the viewer to appreciate in minute detail things they might otherwise overlook when presented with it as a static image in a gallery or on paper.
It begins with Atomic Children (left), an ink drawing completed in 1967 when the threat of nuclear war inspired Giger to present his idea of what the potential horrors and mutations to human beings could be. So ground breaking and original was his drawing that it was reacted to with shock. Yogurt tubs and dog excrement were hurled at the show cases. What those objectors were overlooking was an attention to detail nothing short of genius: the stuff of dreams, nightmares and maybe even drug trips.
The real inspiration for Giger’s creations were the nightmares he had as a young boy and his penchant for day dreaming. His will to overcome his fear manifested itself as the realisation - the “making real” of - his nightmares. His art will not appeal to all, with many paintings being sexually explicit in content. Here is a man with a profound understanding and interest in the human form. The art does not come off as seedy, pornographic or distasteful and is presented in a matter of fact way. The sexual content of the art pales in significance compared to their visual impact. A personal favourite is Erotomechanics (below),
another example of where Giger’s concepts and attention to detail baffles. The beings in his art seem already conceived, as if made by a Divine Creator.
From looking at one work, Biomechanical Landscape (below), it is clear where the inspiration for many subsequent films such as The Matrix came from. He has created the notion of the Biomechanical. We live in a world of technological dependence and Giger illustrates this in his work by conjuring a world where the living have become part of the mechanical world around them. Other ‘snapshots’ from his works in the film include phallic trains in New York City, grey landscapes not dissimilar to the Mine of Moria in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, as well as a demonic, goat like creature surrounded by svelte, snake-skinned beauties in his work, The Spell.
One recurring paradox in so much of his work is the “masculine” versus the “feminine”. Many images in his creations have a dark, aggressive, demonic, cold and even satanic feel. His characters therein could be intimidating but Giger depicts them in a still and serene manner where they always look at peace: horror so beautifully presented; the industrial, mechanical and masculine versus the svelte, gold and goddess like beings. It truly is like magic and it is no wonder that Giger will appeal to so diverse an audience: science fiction fans, fetishists, S&M lovers, fans of heavy metal and even the girly girls who dream of fairies and nymphs.
Some may accuse Giger of Satanism given the dark nature of his work, or a being a pervert because of the naked forms and sexual connotations. Although an apparent interest in the occult, that is “the hidden”, could understandably lead people to believing so, it has been confirmed by many sources, including Jahn, that Giger is no Satanist. Or pervert for that matter.
With so much emphasis often put upon a work of art's “meaning” in a lot of moderan art, it is a joy to appreciate art for its aesthetics and for its beauty. Even if Giger does not inspire something magical in your mind from how his art looks, his pure technical skill will dazzle you.
In the words of New York artist, Pet Sylvia, “all we have to do is sit back and enjoy the work.”