One of my earliest memories is staring, with abject horror, at an image of a large, slick worm with razor-sharp teeth thrusting out from the page through a man’s burst and bleeding chest. My father owned an illustrated version of the Alien script, and it was full of photographs from the film. I knew I shouldn’t have been looking at that book; it was a taboo. This was my introduction to the creations of Hans Rudolf Giger, the Swiss surrealist painter who died yesterday, tragically, in hospital after falling down a stairwell.
Giger spent most of his life bringing nightmares to life with intensely disturbing subjects and landscapes that gave pleasure through their utter wrongness. You’d find landscapes of dead babies, flesh-like deserts, gateways to terror, and creatures of unknowable horror made even more disturbing by their all-too recognizable genitalia. His paintings, particularly those framed in his biomechanoid phase, reminded me of industrial music: layers and layers of strangeness that could be viewed on macro- and microcosmic levels. There was also a very dark sense of humour in a lot of his work; through the twisted and brutalized forms were comical faces and situations – from Timothy Leary’s open, laughing mouth and brilliant, maelstrom-wrought eyes to a porcine, lascivious Aleistar Crowley wearing a dunce cap. Every time I look at one of my Giger books, I spend a lot of time looking at every painting. I discover something new each and every time.
Giger was best-known for his work on the design of the xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s seminal film, Alien. In all its forms, the creature was a cock, and it gave a horrific representation to the creation of the masculine from the feminine. Giger won an Academy Award for its design in 1980, which may mark the one and only time a major award was given to something so utterly pornographic. Compare its proboscis and tail in its face-hugger form, its phallic nature post-host (thrusting and bursting its way into the world), and its final form: a huge, biting penis on legs.
While he hit the public consciousness with his work in film design, the vast majority of his work took the form of painting, particularly the airbrush. He became synonymous with the medium, and his airbrush art, as bizarre, otherworldly, and disturbing though it may be, was so realistic Dutch customs once confiscated some of his pieces, claiming they were photographs (of what subjects, the mind reels about) until it could be confirmed by an expert that they were, indeed, paintings. He also lent his hand, and art, to album covers – most famously by Debbie Harry, Danzig, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Dead Kennedys, and Celtic Frost. The paintings’ depth and texture boggle the mind; it’s easy to lose yourself in his nightmarish visions.
Giger was the first artist I ever learned to love. Like many, I’m no critic, but I know what I like, and sometimes those are the things that scare you. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the first art forms that every truly disturbed me, the aforementioned illustrated Alien script, ended up being a gateway drug of sorts into a land of weird dreams. Because of Giger I discovered Dali, Bosch, and Blake, and while Giger wasn’t my favourite artist of all time, he certainly was the first.
You will be missed, Mr Giger.