The Two-Way
12:10 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Artist H.R. Giger, Creator Of Surreal Biomechanics, Dies

Originally published on Tue May 13, 2014 7:26 pm

You might not know the name, but you probably know the work: H.R. Giger created some of the most powerfully creepy visuals in Hollywood's history, including animals and props that forced some viewers of 1979's sci-fi film Alien to watch the film through their fingers.

Hans Rudolf Giger was 74; he died in Zurich from injuries suffered in a fall, a representative of the H.R. Giger Museum in Gruyeres, Switzerland, tells the AP.

In a career that spanned decades, Giger reflected humanity's increasingly close (and sometimes fearful) relationship with machines, creating work that seamlessly melds the organic with the mechanical. Wired magazine has said he merged "sex, tech, legend."

His unique style helped the Swiss artist win an Oscar for his work on Alien.

Writing about how that style developed, Wired reported that in Chur, Switzerland, Giger lived "an idyllic childhood in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But it harbored forbidding structures and estranged elements that left an impression on a child subjected to night terrors and panic attacks."

Giger's unique aesthetic also inspired a Giger Bar in Tokyo; another opened up in his hometown.

As the website io9 reports, Giger "became a concept designer for movies like Species, Poltergeist 2, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune, and even Batman Forever (although his Batmobile design wasn't used, unfortunately)."

Giger's work also included album covers, as the AP notes:

"Giger's vision of a human skull encased in a machine appeared on the cover of Brain Salad Surgery, a 1973 album by the rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Along with his design for Debbie Harry's solo album, Koo Koo (1981), it featured in a 1991 Rolling Stone magazine list of the top 100 album covers of all time."

Update at 4:51 p.m. EDT: All Things Considered talked to Giger's friend and publisher James Cowan, who said the artist's work was inspired by his dreams.

"He would have nightmares, going through passages and tunnels and this sort of thing. And took his dreams and put them on paper," Cowan says.

Cowan is the owner of Morpheus Fine Art in Las Vegas. He published Giger's art books for more than 20 years and says while he is best known for designing scary creatures in Hollywood, he was also a very skilled artist with a passion for surrealism.

"It was his mother who gave him a postcard when he was a little boy of a [Salvador] Dali painting. And it just transfixed him," he says.

Last year Giger was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and Cowan says he will go down as one of the great surrealists of our time.

"He has a place in the pantheon of great painters. No question about it. And if you go back to Salvador Dali and all the great masters of imaginative art, Giger's right in there," he says.

Cowan adds that Giger, despite his dark themes, was a kind man.

"You can't judge a book by its cover. You can't judge an artist by his painting in that regard. He was a dear friend and he'll be sorely missed," he says.

You can hear the segment above.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Nineteen seventy-nine's "Alien" brought us one of the most terrifying creatures in movie history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALIEN")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What the hell is this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALIEN NOISES)

CORNISH: The creepy, slithering extraterrestrial was imagined by Swiss artist H.R. Giger. He died yesterday at the age of 74 after suffering injuries from a fall.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

His friend James Cowan says Giger's work was inspired by his dreams.

JAMES COWAN: He would have nightmares, going through passages and tunnels and this sort of thing. And took his dreams and put them on paper.

BLOCK: Cowan is the owner of Morpheus Fine Art in Las Vegas. He's been publishing Giger's art books for more than 20 years. He says while Giger is best known for designing scary creatures in Hollywood, he was also a very skilled artist with a passion for surrealism.

COWAN: It was his mother who gave him a postcard when he was a little boy of a Dali painting. And it just transfixed him.

CORNISH: Giger specialized in a style called biomechanical art, a concept of fusing human body parts with machines. And it was exactly what Ridley Scott had in mind for his alien when he was shown a Giger art book in 1978.

COWAN: It blew Ridley Scott's mind. And he found one or two paintings in there and he just realized that that was the alien essentially, his biomechanical design, the elongated head and all of these aspects that Ridley Scott and Giger worked on to break up the human form so it didn't look like a man in a suit.

CORNISH: H.R. Giger achieved many honors for his work. He won the Academy Award for special effects for "Alien."

BLOCK: Last year he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. James Cowan says Giger will go down as one of the great surrealists of our time.

COWAN: He has a place in the pantheon of great painters. No question about it. And if you go back to Salvador Dali and all the great masters of Imaginative Art, Giger's right in there.

BLOCK: And Cowan adds that Giger, despite his dark themes, was a kind man.

COWAN: You can't judge a book by its cover. You can't judge an artist by his painting in that regard. He was a dear friend and he'll be sorely missed.

CORNISH: If you're ever in Switzerland there is an H.R. Giger Museum. It houses his paintings and sculptures, and gives a further look into the mind behind the monsters.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC, "ALIEN")

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.