When most people dream about horrific monsters, they laugh it off. But for artist Hans Rudolf Giger, those nightmares inspired his work. Many know him as the designer of the titular creatures from the Alien movie franchise, but the H.R. Giger biography includes a career as an artist prior to his work on the film. Influenced by everything from his childhood to his own personal fears and terrors, the work of H.R. Giger blends science fiction and surrealism into a reality that's horrifying from afar, but oddly beautiful up close - and sometimes vice versa.
Born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland, H.R. Giger attended the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. After staging a solo exhibition of his work, Giger discovered the airbrush, which gave his work the unique, smooth style that became his trademark. It was Necronomicon, a collection of his works published in 1977, that got him noticed and hired to design monsters and more for Alien. Although he made the transition from fine artist to film design superstar (and Oscar winner), Giger never wavered in his visions of horror. He passed away after a fall in 2014, but fans in Switzerland can visit the Giger Museum or have a beer at the immersive Giger Bar.
H.R. Giger was once quoted as saying, "Some people say my work is often depressing and pessimistic, with the emphasis on death, blood, overcrowding, strange beings and so on, but I don't really think it is. There is hope and a kind of beauty in there somewhere, if you look for it." H.R. Giger's inspirations and life seem to confirm that view.
As a child, Giger was beset with night terrors, a sleep disorder that causes episodes of intense fear, screaming, and flailing during rest. To combat this, he began drawing his nightmares in self-directed art therapy. Much of what viewers see in Giger’s work is something that once caused him fear, but instead became an inspiration.
Dan O’Bannon, the co-writer of Alien, once asked Giger why he was afraid of his visions since they were just a part of his mind. Giger responded, “That is what I am afraid of.”
Giger met actress Li Tobler in 1966, and they later became a couple, staying together for nine years. He often used her as a model in his art. Their relationship was said to include drug usage and promiscuity, which may have furthered psychological problems on both sides.
Tobler committed suicide in 1975. Giger was devastated, and his work took on a darker tone. He even kept a memento of her death. When a visiting friend noted there were some small holes in one of his canvases, Giger replied, "No, that's where my girlfriend blew her brains out."
As Freud would happily point out, much of Giger's work isn't just about death and biomechanics - it also includes a healthy dose of sex. Instead of painting traditional nudes, though, Giger dismembered bodies while keeping their pointy nipples and phallic protrusions intact.
Writing about Giger's artwork on display, the New York Times noted, "Galleries had to wipe the spit of disgusted neighbors from their windows." But the artist had plenty of fans; in the mid '80s, Giger's Landscape XX was included in the Dead Kennedys album Frankenchrist. The image resulted in an obscenity suit.
The Irish-born English painter Francis Bacon is known for his raw, often grotesque imagery. Giger noted the emotional energy and bold choices Bacon made in his work and admired the bleak existentialism his paintings depicted.
Giger wasn't the only one who was inspired by Bacon's twisted visions. Alien director Ridley Scott asked Giger to design the chestburster based on Bacon's Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion. One of Alien's most memorable scenes is "pure Bacon," as Giger once commented.