The life and work of surrealist genius, H.R.Giger

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Finally, it's a grim day for fans of dark art. The godfather of the form, H.R.Giger, died yesterday after a fall at age 74. The Swiss artist christened his style "bio-mechanical," think "Alien," you know, the face-sucking body-inhabiting kind. H.R. Giger was the artist and designer for the monster and many of the sets in Ridley Scott's 1979 classic.

Roger Luckhurst: His designs completely transformed the idea of the monster in Gothic science-fiction films.

Werman: Roger Luckhurst is writing a book on Alien for the British Film Institute.

Luckhurst: Beforehand, it had always just been really a very laughable man in a rubber suit and Ridley Scott, as soon as he saw H.R. Giger's paintings, saw that he got the monster that he really wanted and was completely astounded and of course it has completely changed the conception of what scares you in science-fiction monster films now.

Werman: But H.R. Giger was much more than the creative genius behind a movie monster, even if it did get him an Oscar. His art inspired a generation of talented, creative monsters. William Gibson and Neil Gaiman; filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro; and swarms of hoody-clad game designers. By the way, the name is pronounced Ghee-gher, even though he's best known in the US as Guy-gher. His own influences? How about the cult horror-fiction writer, HP Lovecraft.

Luckhurst: Lovecraft was not really very well known until the 1960's but it was through people like H.R. Giger, who published a book called the "Necronomicon," the book of the dead, which actually was his illustrations for HP Lovecraft, and really I think it's through H.R. Giger's influence in the '70's that Lovecraft became such a major influence on American popular culture now.

Werman: Or at least a certain slice of American popular culture but Luckhurst says H.R. Giger reached inside for inspiration as well.

Luckhurst: He always talked about dredging up his images from his unconscious and there really is no subtext in his paintings, it's all text. Incredibly sexualized but also terrifying images of machines combined usually with women's bodies, actually. He talked about how all of these ideas came from traumatic images or memories from his nightmares. Those images, very sexualized images, became very popular in the 1970's.

Werman: Giger once said his paintings seem to make the strongest impression on people who are, well, crazy. Luckhurst says despite his popularity, Giger always felt that he never got the recognition that he deserved. And yet he lived in extravagant Gothic splendor in a castle in Switzerland.

Luckhurst: He was an extraordinary, a very eccentric figure, a wonderful descendant from that Dali surrealism. So he's not really considered in fine art world to be, as it were, a proper artist, a bit like Salvadore Dali. But actually in the popular culture he's exactly what people want an artist to be: very eccentric, always dressed in black leather, always behaving in a very odd and eccentric way, always muttering darkly about death, sex and despair. What more do you want?

Werman: Artist and designer H.R. Giger died yesterday from a fall. He was 74.