One of the most singular artists of our time, H.R. Giger, has passed away aged 74. Known worldwide for his iconic design of the ‘xenomorph’ in the Alien franchise of movies, Giger’s dark ‘biomechanical’ artworks are instantly recognisable, and no doubt will live on in popular culture and in art circles for quite some time beyond their creator’s passing.
When the late Nevill Drury visited Giger at the artist’s home in Zurich, filled with the paintings and sculptures he is known for, Drury described the feeling as being like “experiencing an exorcism”. During their chat, which Drury mentions in his book The History of Magic in the Modern Age, Giger offered some insights into his working process:
Giger told me that he did not understand the processes which underly his paintings, but that he makes use, essentially, of the mediumistic or ‘automatic’ style adopted by several surrealists, including Max Ernst, Oscar Dominguez and Wolfgang Paalen. Giger maintains that he opens the door to his unconscious mind by confronting a blank canvas and suspending conscious thought. Then, as the spontaneous images start to build before his eyes, he adds details and texture with his airbrush. Giger likes the airbrush because of its tremendous directness: “It enables me to project my visions directly onto the pictorial surface, freezing them immediately”.
…Giger has litte real explanation for [his] exotic images. “I try to come close to my imagination”, he says in broken English. “I have something in my head and I try to work it out – like a kind of exorcism”. Giger recognises the adverse effect his work has on many of the people who see it, but he is keen to point out that if his work seems dark, this is not necessarily the way he is himself. “My childhood was very happy”, he says, almost apologetically, “and my parents have been very nice to me”. He ponders a while and then adds, “I think that most of the images in my paintings are evil, but you can’t say that I’m evil. It’s just that evil is much, much more interesting than Paradise…”
Despite his ‘nice’ upbringing, Giger was fascinated – and haunted – by dark visions from an early age. He had nightmares about about a “yawning abyss” beneath his parent’s house, “gigantic bottomless shafts bathing in pale yellow light”. As a child he built skeletons out of cardboard, wire and plaster, and had an overwhelming dislike of snakes and worms. And he has acknowledged that he was influenced by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. According to Drury, Giger acknowledged that he had studied the works of Aleister Crowley, but did not consider himself a magician in the traditional sense, as he never performed rituals. Yet, as Drury notes, “Giger, in a very real way, makes magic spontaneously. When the thin veil across his psyche is drawn aside just a little, tempestuous visions of evil and alienation come forth. It is as if the dark gods are emerging once again from the nightmares of the past.”
For more about the man, see the documentary embedded below, H.R. Giger Revealed:
Giger, who also contributed artwork to Omni magazine and to album covers of popular musical artists, was inducted into to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame last year.