He is, perhaps, the most influential surrealist of all time, arguably more important than Salvador Dali and better known than movement’s founder, Andre Breton. For some, however, the categorization doesn’t fully give Swiss artist Hans Ruedi “H.R.” Giger enough credit. To them, he was more than just a critical delineation. As a genre prophet, his impact on science fiction, fantasy, and horror is unquestioned. As an inspiration, he’s the godfather of too many cultural connections (Cyberpunk, Goth, Future Shock) to name. While some consider his work borderline pornographic (and have persecuted him for such over the years), Giger remains an embedded part of our contemporary consciousness. After all, who can look at the dual mouthed monster from Ridley Scott’s Alien and not instantly distinguish the man’s amazing style. Both instantly recognizable and frighteningly foreign, it marks the culmination, and the mere surface, of his entire creative canon.
Giger was born in 1940 in the Swiss city of Chur. His parents wanted him to pursue anything other than art. After a brief time as an architecture and industrial design student, he returned to his first passion. During the ‘70s, he became a cult figure, and by the mid-‘80s everyone knew his name. Today, he is a titan, with exhibitions of his works worldwide. There are even bars and clubs designed after his efforts. He was publicity shy and seldom spoke about his work in public, and since his unfortunate passing on 12 May as a result of injuries sustained in a fall, there’s been a outpouring of sympathy so strong one imagines it would embarrass the soft-spoken, white-haired man. In honor of his lifetime in the farthest reaches of our nightmares, here are 10 culturally iconic moments in Giger’s career. From album covers to motion pictures, H.R. Giger offered up a singular, inspiring vision. There’s was no one like him before. There won’t be another like him.
For many future Giger fans, this was their introduction to his mind-bending fusion of man and machinery. Keyboardist Keith Emerson is quoted as saying that the perennial prog rock act wanted an album cover that would stir things up and set their fan’s tongues wagging. The image of a beautiful if still slightly sinister female face merged with a frightening future shock container became the band’s most iconic LP image ever. Giger would go on to do more cover work, though this, and an upcoming choice, remain the most memorable from his long and legendary career.
If you weren’t a fan of extended dinosaur rock, you may have seen Giger here, in the pages one of the best and most influential genre magazines of all time. Backed by her future husband Bob Guccione (of Penthouse fame), publisher Katy Keeton longed for something “that explored all realms of science and the paranormal, that delved into all corners of the unknown and projected some of those discoveries into fiction”. Either on the cover or as illustrations for the articles within, Giger soon became an integral element to the periodicals look, feel, and sensibility.
In 1977, Giger put out a book of his diabolical, dangerous visions and the worlds of science fiction, horror, and fantasy have never been the same. The images here would go on to win him a legion of fans, a series of detractors, and an Academy Award. Indeed, as we will learn later, it was this influential tome, along with his participation in a famously never-made movie, that earned Giger the attention of Tinseltown. Thumbing through the eye-opening (and its sequel) pages here, one can see the whole of post-modern genre imagery coming into its own.
As we mentioned before, Emerson, Lake and Palmer made successful use of Giger’s visuals to sell LPs. For the famed hardcore punk band and its volatile sound, the artist allowed a poster entitled “Landscape #XX” (later dubbed “Penis Landscape”) to be included with the record. This did not sit well with a pre-PMRC populace, and before he knew it, lead singer Jello Biafra was hauled into court on obscenity charges. The incendiary front man fought the charges, but the battle almost bankrupted his tiny label Alternative Tentacles. Oddly enough, the image had been around since 1973, and was even featured in a 1977 edition of Omni.
The multi-talented writer/director/artist who Stephen King once branded “the future of horror” has made no bones about attributing the look of this horrifying Hellraiser characters to Giger and his influence. In fact, there are rumors that the long stalled remake of the original 1987 shocker was to feature creatures far more in tune with the Swiss artist’s surrealist ideals. One thing’s for sure, Barker’s basis for these “demons” offering up unsuspecting humans both the ultimate pleasure and the most horrific pain are based almost exclusively on Giger’s “flesh and fear” philosophy.
// Notes from the Road
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