Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger is best-known in the United States for his lurid monster designs, most notably the psycho-sexual nightmare creatures featured in Alien and Species. But there's a lot more to Giger than just horror movies, explains Andreas J. Hirsch, the author of a new volume surveying the artist's more than 40-year career, now available from Taschen.
Limited to just 1,000 copies, the 400-page collector's edition features over 400 pages of high-res reproductions of Giger's most famous work, including his first "mainstream" success: his 1973 LP-cover design for the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album, Brain Salad Surgery.
It's a tamer work than many we associate with Giger, although still containing many of the hallmarks we associate with his work. The outer cover features a pale, sepulchral woman, with a dreadlock-style hairdo that, upon closer reflection, is made up of plated, bio-mechanical cords, similar to an Alien xenomorph's tail. When opened, all but the woman's lip peel away, revealing an almost cult-like totem of skeleton and stone.
According to Hirsch, who owned this album when he was younger, Brain Salad Surgery was his first exposure to Giger, along with a 1967 print, "Cthulhu (Genius) III," parts of which feature elements that also would go on to be included [in the design of Alien]. "The specific mood of this picture fascinates me to this day," says Hirsch, who went on to curate a large collection of Giger's work at Vienna's Kunst Haus Wien. And while it, along with many of Giger's other creatures, are admittedly grotesque, there's also something beautiful about them.
"Besides a specific mood to be found especially in his earlier work, there is a certain grace that even his most fearful creatures seem to own," says Hirsch. "This speaks to me together with the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional character of his artistic cosmos."
Giger's signature style was informed by the night terrors which haunted him for most of his life. He first dreamed of the "biomechanoids" he would spend his career drawing after a nightmare in which demons were staring at him through cracks in a wall of splitting diseased skin. Though these images might seem perverse, Hirsch says that they resonate because they are horrors we can all, somehow, relate to.
"Giger went far into dimly lit areas of the human mind, where only few dared to go," Hirsch says. "And he was able to bring back images that immediately connect with the viewer's own inner worlds. Giger's art expresses human fears and delves deeply into other worlds."
Ultimately, Hirsch says that he hopes his book on Giger will be nothing less than the ultimate resource on the artist. He also hopes to better inform people about other aspects of Giger's career. "Not so many people know that he had an education in interior design," Hirsch points out. "That's why three-dimensional objects and spaces play such an important part in understanding his art." In later years, in fact, Giger returned to interior design, creating entire environments for himself and his fans, like the Giger Café at his Museum in Gruyères in Switzerland."
As for the one thing Hirsch wishes most people knew about H.R. Giger? "One of the widely unknown facts about H.R. Giger is what a charming, polite, and ultimately funny person he was—quite in contrast to the demonic image of him that still lingers around," says Hirsch. If there's one takeaway Hirsch would like people to have from his book, it's that this maker of monsters was, in fact, a giant teddy bear in real life. Who would have thought?
Signed by Giger's widow, H.R. Giger Collector's Edition is now available for preorder directly from Taschen for $900.
[All Images: courtesy Taschen]