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The Tortured Genius of H.R. Giger

Updated on May 13, 2014

While Swiss artist H.R. Giger may have been known mostly for his creature designs in Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi film Alien , he had created hundreds, if not thousands, of other pieces of art in the forms of paintings, drawings, and sculptures. His work tends to be blatantly sexual much of the time, connecting mechanics with biology in the most surreal ways. His signature "biomechanoids" were the dreamlike creatures of Giger's nightmares which inspired Ridley Scott in the first place.

Giger's artwork is indescribably dark and twisted, but in such a way I can't help but love it. He managed to capture in a single painting or drawing the entire scope of a nightmare. Much of this is because his inspiration had mostly derived from night terrors he suffered from for years. He managed to articulate many of these in a way that was uniquely his, and encapsulate the sexual undertones beneath the dark, cold exterior of his terrors. And the sexuality isn't so perverse that it reaches tastelessness, so it manages to stay within the realm of fine art.

Another beautifully disturbing piece
Another beautifully disturbing piece

The vast array of art Giger has produced covers many of the connections between biology and synthetics, and it is clear that much of this art was a form of therapy for him. Giger's own struggles with mental illness, particularly depression, sparked the creativity that drove him into this dark world. His work transcends ethereal material and ventures into illogical surrealism, with a tortured aesthetic applied to the tone of the pieces. So much of his work alludes to emotional suffering and personal anguish, but instead of avoiding it or trying to escape it, the artwork revels in it and personifies the grotesqueness, making it darkly beautiful.

I suppose maybe my own experiences with severe depression help me find a connection with Giger's artwork, and while many interpretative messages can be pulled from certain pieces, ones of social commentary, I simply enjoy taking the artwork in for what it is: a dark canvas of human nature.

Giger was not only a painter and ink-artist, but also an accomplished sculptor and interior designer. Not only did he design the creature in Alien, but he was also responsible for much of the design of the creature's home planet. Years following his work in film, he created mic stands for various musicians, including Korn's Jonathan Davis, and he has sculpted many other pieces for display in museums around the world. He designed the interior for four Giger Bars, one in New York closing soon after The Limelight did, and then one in Tokyo which never took off due to Giger's frustration with Japan's building policies. The other two are in Switzerland and still stand. Both feature a monumental amount of architecture and furniture designs from Giger himself, modeled after much of his previous work.

Art piece similar to Species's Sil design
Art piece similar to Species's Sil design

In the world of cinema, in addition to designing the creature and sets for Alien, H.R. also created two key designs for the 1995 sci-fi B-movie Species. He designed the creature of Sil and the train seen in Sil's nightmare sequences, and despite the film itself being a pretty mundane horror/sci-fi with a surprisingly great cast (Ben Kingsley?) the concept of Sil--a half-alien, half-human being with an insatiable sex drive motivating everything she does--seems right up Giger's alley. The design largely resembles his Alien designs, yet there's a more human quality to Sil, particularly in the face. Giger went on to contribute to the abysmal sequel, Species II, but upon seeing the film and how little he actually had to do with the final designs, he demanded his name be removed from the project. I also suspect it was because the film was so bad.

Giger also designed many works for an unfinished Dune adaptation, and much of the furniture and creature designs for that film can be found in his bars and elsewhere, including a worm that wound up being used in a Japanese Pioneer ad for Zone in 1985.

With his recent death at the age of 74, Giger has left a plentiful legacy in the world of dark art, with a distinctive artistic expression and intricacy, and his art can be found in several books devoted to his work, namely Necronomicon and Necronomicon 2. You can also find prints of his artwork throughout the Internet, many of which I hope to someday own. I really wish he had contributed more to the film industry, but his Alien design is iconic enough and faithfully represents his artistry, and his work has garnered influence over my own imagination. It's a shame such a visionary, who truly understood the primal qualities of human nature, has departed, but his art will hopefully influence generations of artists who share that vision and continue to develop it.

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    • Ben Graves profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Graves 

      6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for the notice. Changed it. I'm not sure where I read that he's German, but it makes sense he's Swiss considering he's cemented in Switzerland...

    • profile image

      -Keillor- 

      6 years ago

      Just so we are all aware, H.R. Giger is most certainly not German as it says in the first paragraph of this blog. H.R. Giger is Swiss.

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 

      7 years ago from Australia

      I have long been a fan of his dark art and really enjoyed reading more about him. thank you

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      7 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Great hub. His art is strange to say the least, but one can't help but admire the mind that creates them.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Great stuff - really matches the dystopic subject matter his work is often paired with.

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