H.R. Giger, Surrealist, ‘Alien’ Designer, Refiner Of Nightmare Fuel, Dies At 74
H.R. Giger, the Swiss artist best known for designing the titular monster in Alien and painting lots of other monsters with tits featured in Omni magazine, died Monday from injuries he suffered in a fall. His weird, “biomechanical” fusions of technology, bones, viscera, and S&M gear influenced the look of science fiction far beyond the Alien series and the pages of Heavy Metal.
“My paintings seem to make the strongest impression on people who are, well, who are crazy,” Giger said in a 1979 interview with Starlog magazine. “If they like my work they are creative … or they are crazy.”
If you were a nerd in the late ’70s or early ’80s you knew your Giger, from his PG-13 work in Omni — Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s stab at legitimate publishing — or maybe a few NC-17 images in Penthouse, one of the few issues of that magazine this geek ever bought to read a specific article. I remember feeling slightly smug about recognizing Giger’s “Penis Landscape” painting when Dead Kennedys included it as a poster with Frankenchrist and Jello Biafra was charged with obscenity. It was my one nerdy hipster moment.
Giger also painted the cover art for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album “Brain Salad Surgery,” and for Debbie Harry’s 1981 solo album “Koo Koo,” both of which were included in a 1991 Rolling Stone list of best album covers of all time. Look, spiky things!
And of course there was Giger’s Oscar-winning work on Ridley Scott’s Alien, with the double-mouthed killer critter and that beautifully weird spaceship that deliberately avoided symmetry and looked as if it hadn’t been manufactured so much as grown. How many kids have had nightmares about that frozen skeletal pilot guy, fused forever to his seat?
As you might gather, I’ve got mixed feelings about Giger’s work — it’s unmistakably cool, but also so very very one-note that it almost parodies itself — to make your H.R. Giger art car, just glue vertebrae, rubber-tubing veins, and circuit boards onto a Volkswagen and paint the whole thing gloss black and silver. And let’s not even get started on the tattoos.
“The greatest compliment is when people get tattooed with my work, whether it’s done well or not,” he told Seconds magazine in 1994. “To wear something like that your whole life is the largest compliment someone can pay to you as an artist.”
There’s also no denying that Giger tapped into something that was/is very real, a genuine fascination with tech and sex and death that’s as old as Fritz Lang’s robot beauty in Metropolis and as squicky as J.G. Ballard’s Crash. So, sure, maybe kind of kitschy, but also pretty much inescapable. And if you’re in the mood to actually slug down a Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster in an appropriate setting, an H.R. Giger Bar is slated to open sometime this year, possibly in New York or Seattle.