The famed Surrealist artist H.R. Giger, best known for his game-changing designs on Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” has died at age 74. He had been hospitalized after a fall down the stairs in his Zurich home.
It was the hammer-headed Xenomorph from 1979’s “Alien” that won Giger his Oscar in 1980 for Best Achievement in Special Effects. (It was based on his 1976 lithograph “Necronom IV.”) He then went on to contribute designs for “Poltergeist 2,” “The Other Side,” “Alien 3,” “Species” and “Prometheus,” to name a few, as well as designing out-of-this-world, macabre album covers for Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Debbie Harry and Danzig.
In terms of the look of his art, Giger himself described it as “biochemical.” He returned again and again to monochromatic landscapes, steampunk visions of the fusion of the organic body with machines, monsters and genitalia. He opened his own museum to display his work in Gruyeres, Switzerland in 1998, where he also exhibited others Surrealists’ work — including the greats, like Dali and Fuchs.
Giger was most recently featured in interview in the terrific documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”; he had been approached by the Chilean filmmaker to contribute VFX designs to the doomed epic Jodorowsky envisioned, before plans fell through and the film went to David Lynch.
Meanwhile, the Letters of Note blog has a fascinating, strikingly honest letter from James Cameron to Giger, penned in 1987, apologizing for not having contacted the designer for his sequel “Aliens.”
Here’s a few tidbits from what the web is saying:
The image of a brooding, mysterious artist was nurtured by
Giger working only at night, keeping his curtains permanently drawn and
dressing mainly in black — a habit he acquired while working as a draftsman
because it made Indian ink stains stand out less on his clothes.
While his work was commercially successful, critics derided
it as morbid kitsch. His designs were exhibited more frequently in
“Alien” theme bars, short-lived Giger museums and at tattoo
conventions than in established art galleries.
Punk group the Dead Kennedys included a poster of Giger’s
Landscape #XX, also known as Penis Landscape as it depicted rows of erect
phalluses in coitus, in the packaging of their 1985 album Frankenchrist, and
were subsequently put on trial for obscenity. When a 14-year-old girl bought
the album for her 11-year-old brother, her parents filed a complaint with the
California attorney general. The Dead Kennedys had included a sticker on their
album art bearing a warning about the poster: “Some people may find [it]
shocking, repulsive or offensive – life can sometimes be that way.” The
group later removed the poster and included a voucher fans could mail in for
it. The obscenity case ended in a mistrial.
His mother Melli, to whom he showed a lifelong devotion,
encouraged her son’s passion for art, despite his unconventional obsession with
death and sex that found little appreciation in 1960s rural Switzerland. The
host of one of his early exhibitions was reportedly forced to wipe the spit of
disgusted neighbors off the gallery windows every morning.
And below, watch clips from Giger’s film work, as well as a charmingly dated, feature-length documentary from the mid-70s that investigates his unusual artistic methods.