H.R. Giger, the artist whose twisted fusions of futuristic mechanics and primal bones became the stuff of sci-fi nightmare in the Alien movies, has died. According to Reuters, Geiger had recently suffered a fall in Zurich—the city where he’d studied industrial design and architecture, and first experimented with the artwork that would make him famous. Giger died as a result of his injuries at the age of 74.
Giger dubbed his style “biomechanical,” its intertwining of the fragile human body and cold, unyielding machinery creating an interplay that was disturbing yet often oddly sexual—and, for lack of a better word, really cool. On a technical level, Giger’s work was influenced by other surrealists like Salvador Dalí, and (at least initially) defined by his use of airbrush, which created its smooth, monochromatic sheen. But on a deeper, more psychological level, it was influenced by Giger’s suffering from night terrors, as he poured his hellish visions onto the canvas as a means of therapy. As evidenced by the title of his first collection of images, Necronomicon, he was also greatly inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, which had the same sense of unfathomable, monstrous evil that lurked behind all of Giger’s works.
When Alien director Ridley Scott was struggling with what his own monster should look like, it was the images from Necronomicon that burrowed their way into his head, placed there by screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. O’Bannon had encountered Giger while both served on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed adaptation of Dune, and had walked away disturbed by his paintings. Both he and Scott were particularly taken with Giger’s Necronom IV as the basis for their monster, and set about trying to convince 20th Century Fox to hire him as a designer. The studio balked, believing Giger’s work was far too horrific, but their persistence won out—and the result was one of the most fully realized extraterrestrial worlds ever committed to film. Giger’s work spread its warped synthesis of sleek robotics and exposed ribs across the floors, ceilings, and walls of decades of Alien sequels—up to and including 2012’s Prometheus—and across our collective unconscious.
Outside of the Alien franchise, Giger contributed designs to the movies Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Killer Condom, Species, and Batman Forever (where his unused take on the Batmobile has become legend). He also directed several movies of his own, including Swiss Made, Tagtraum, and A New Face Of Debbie Harry—the lattermost made around the time of Giger’s portrait of the Blondie singer for her debut solo album, KooKoo. He also directed two of its musical videos.
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. 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.
Beyond that, Giger’s fingerprints can be seen in the DNA of “cyberpunk,” every tattoo artist who dabbles in the mechanical and macabre, and the molds of every work of modernist furniture that looks amazing yet really uncomfortable. (Giger himself sold replicas of his most famous creation, his Harkonnen Capo Chair from Dune, for around $50,000 apiece.) More tangibly, it can be seen in the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyères and the Giger Bars that survive both there and in Chur. Earlier this year, it was announced that Giger was cooperating with the development of a Giger Bar in America, though details on its location have yet to be nailed down. Whether or not it’s ever completed, however, Giger will always have an unsettling room in the dark corner of our mind.
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