HR Giger, master of many dark arts

The work of Swiss artist HR Giger, who died on Monday aged 74, was known to many beyond the art world. From film and music videos, to record sleeve design and video games, we look back at how his influence was felt right across the visual arts

The work of Swiss artist HR Giger, who died on Monday aged 74, was known to many beyond the art world. From film and music videos, to record sleeve design and video games, we look back at how his influence was felt right across the visual arts…

Hans Ruedi Giger’s most recognisable artworks are his numerous paintings that imagine a disturbing biomechanical universe where the machine blends with the organic.

One image in particular, Necronom IV (below), became the starting point for a relationship with director Sir Ridley Scott and Giger’s pivotal role on his Alien film of 1979; his work on the alien character design culminating in an Oscar in visual effects. Scott had first seen Giger’s paintings at a gallery show in Paris and knew of his book, Necronomicon.

Necronom IV, one of the paintings which inspired the look of the monsters in Alien

Giger’s own alien beings were a stark mix of flesh and metals; exposed skeletal structures blend with phallic tubes and protusions, while sinew-like wiring weaves in and out of torso. And then there was the sharp set – or sets – of teeth. Lots of teeth. The stuff of nightmares, essentially.

Dreams were, unsurprisingly, a great source of inspiration for Giger, though literature also proved to be a huge influence on his own work. The bleak texts of Samuel Beckett and the fantastical tales of HP Lovecraft were two important sources of ideas for the artist.

The Tourist VI

But his work didn’t just appeal to science-fiction filmmakers and their fans. For example, his aesthetic helped create a transfixing new image for Debbie Harry when she released her first solo album, KooKoo, in 1981.

It was an unlikely pairing as while Harry’s new sound was going in a funk direction, thanks in part to being backed by members of Chic and produced by Nile Rogers, Giger saw her as a punk archetype, complete with startling piercings.

Giger created the artwork for the record’s sleeve (he had apparently been experimenting with acupuncture at the time), and went on to direct videos for two of the tracks from it – Backfired and Now I Know You.

The latter, which Giger infused with a series of paintings and props, even hints at some of the design concepts that would be used in Scott’s Prometheus film nearly thirty years later.

In 1999 a sketch by Giger also made its way into one of the most infamous music videos of all time – Chris Cunningham’s unsettling ten-minute epic for Aphex Twin track, Windowlicker.

Called The Windowlickers, Giger’s original grinning face became one of the Aphex Twin ‘masks’ adopted towards the end of Cunningham’s film; the most bizarre of them (if that’s possible) and the only one that differs from the legion of Richard James faces. (The masks in the film were designed and sculpted by Paul Catling.)

Though his sleeve art for Deborah Harry and, before that, Emerson Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery is arguably his most recognisable, his designs were also popularised via various metal bands such as Carcass, Celtic Frost and Thomas Gabriel Warrior’s Triptykon, whose Melana Chasmata (below) was released last month and is the last sleeve Giger worked on.

The Vinyl Factory has a good list of 20 Giger covers, some of which are reposted here. John Coulthart also has an interesting post on Giger’s sleeves (and interior artwork) at his {feuilleton} website.

Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery

Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery (inner)

While metal fans related to his dark portrayals of the human psyche, Giger also worked with video game companies, most notably with Cyberdreams on its Dark Seed I (1992) and II (1995) releases. A ‘point-and-click’ adventure/horror game, Dark Seed was one of the very first to incorporate high resolution graphics.

Keith Stuart takes a wider look at Giger’s influence on gaming visuals on the Guardian, here, and includes references to R-Type (Irem), Resident Evil (Capcom) and Hellbound and Galshell (Akira Hut Original) – all of which, Stuart suggests, owe a debt to the Giger aesthetic.

Dark Seed video game

True to his character, Giger even lived among his work in Saint-Germain castle in Gruyères which housed the HR Giger museum dedicated to his surrealist work.

Inside, rooms are decorated like sets from the Alien films – the Giger bar has a series of skeletal, high-backed chairs while the ceilings arch like giant rib cages and spinal columns.

Giger welcomed the numerous visitors who travelled to the town to see his work, remarking to Vice in 2009 that they were easy to spot: they were usually dressed all in black.

In the mid-80s, the artist had been approached to work on a film of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but the adaptation eventually went to David Lynch whose version came out in 1984. Giger said that as his hands-on involvement in film-making post-Alien lessened, the quality of his work diminished, too.

But his art continued to beguile Scott, who used many design elements from his work throughout the Alien sequence of films and into 2012’s Prometheus. For the latter, Giger also designed original work including a vast mural that was used in one of the chamber scenes.

Some of Giger’s art from the 1970s was used to create the look of sets in Prometheus – images from prometheusforum.net

In an interview with Debbie Harry filmed during the making of one of the KooKoo videos, her partner Chris Stein says that Giger’s video for the track is the very “opposite to the music”. It’s an interesting point and, watching it again, it does seem both odd but perfectly suited to the transformative nature of Harry’s persona.

“His characters, his creatures, that’s what I become,” she adds at the end, slightly mysteriously. Giger’s work was always about the power of transformation.

Giger’s family has now added a statement to his site, hrgiger.com.

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