Original Creators: Biomechanical Surrealist H.R.Giger
Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator,” an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: H.R.Giger.
Imagine the film Alien without the biomechanical designs of H.R.Giger—it would’ve probably sunken without trace, instead it spawned a franchise that’s spanned science fiction films, comic books, novels, and toys. The alien monster with its elongated head and second jaw, it’s tail and exoskeletal body, is a film icon as famous as King Kong.
But Giger’s lauded, Oscar-winning efforts for Alien are not his only achievements, he’s also a painter, sculptor, and interior designer (creating bars that look like alien otherworlds and furniture). He’s nurtured a disturbing and nightmarish aesthetic that’s also captivating and unique, making his work instantly recognizable—what he describes as a “biomechanical aesthetic, a dialectic between man and machine, representing a universe at once disturbing and sublime.”
His bizarre creations look to the abject for their horror, incorporating sexual imagery, death, human forms, and technology to twist bodies with machines and create aberrations full of contrasting ideas and emotions—cold and inhuman but otherworldly beautiful. It won’t come as a shock to learn that he suffered from night terrors, which his creations are actualizations of. Creations that are full of a strange eroticism plagued with visions of the “other,” visions which are both repulsive and seductive.
This was Giger’s first book, full of airbrushed paintings of life in the land of the dead, paintings (like the two above) that would become the genesis of his most famous creation. In the introduction he recounts his first encounter with the fantastic when he saw stills from Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast in Life magazine while on a family vacation.
He also recounts how an early series of ink drawings called Shaft originated from nightmares he had about bottomless chasms. More insight into his aesthetic comes when he mentions recurring dreams about the family’s cellar where it was turned it into a “monstrous labyrinth, where all kinds of dangers lay in wait for me.” It’s these nightmare dreamscapes—which he finds both attractive and intimidating—full of dark imagery conjured from the subconscious that he uses as creative fuel. And it’s this combination of attraction and intimidation that he manifests so well in his work, and which inspired the vicious creature from Alien.
Cover for for book “Giger’s Alien”
The Space Jockey in the movie
Its ambiguous gender, its armored humanoid form, its eyeless skull and Pharyngeal jaws make it a truly abominable creature, typifying Giger’s biomechanical aesthetic by combining the human and machine in one species. Giger designed the alien’s life cycles—from egg to face-hugger, chest buster to adult—along with the alien planetoid the crew encounter and the Space Jockey alien vessel. His designs appear in all the alien movies including Prometheus and he also designed for Poltergeist II, Species, and Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
Debbie Harry – “Koo Koo”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer – “Brain Salad Surgery”
As well as his film work, paintings, and sculptures he’s also created numerous album covers, like Debbie Harry’s Koo Koo and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. He also designed a mic stand for the lead singer of Korn and for those that want to experience his designs in the flesh, they can check out the two Giger Bars in Switzerland, one in Gruyères and one in Chur. The one in Gruyères is set within a castle with vertebrae arches lining cavernous walls, bringing to mind his designs for the interior of the Space Jockey’s vessel. His surreal visions also made it into the virtual landscape with video games Dark Seed and Dark Seed II.
His images continues to shock, repel, and inspire and he’s created an aesthetic that will live on whenever anyone combines the surreal, the mechanical, the seductive, and the macabre.