Artist HR Giger created horrors blending man and machine

Artist HR Giger made monsters, including the Oscar-winning alien in Ridley Scott's movie

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 1:47am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 1:47am

Swiss surrealist designer Hans Ruedi Giger, who won an Oscar for the monster he created for Ridley Scott's Alien, has died, a museum dedicated to his work said yesterday.

The HR Giger Museum in the central Swiss village of Gruyere confirmed that the 74-year-old artist had died, but provided no further details.

Swiss public broadcaster SRF meanwhile reported that Giger had died Monday afternoon in hospital from injuries sustained in a fall, citing sources close to his family.

Born on February 5, 1940, into a chemist's family in the small eastern Swiss town of Chur, Giger moved to Zurich in 1962 to study architecture and industrial design.

He quickly turned to art, producing first mainly ink drawings and oil paintings that formed the basis for his first solo exhibition four years later.

But it was his discovery of the airbrush that led to the unique freehand painting style that characterises many of his most famous works.

Giger's works, often showing macabre scenes of humans and machines fused into hellish hybrids, influenced a generation of movie directors and inspired an enduring fashion for "biomechanical" tattoos.

"My paintings seem to make the strongest impression on people who are, well, who are crazy," Giger said in a 1979 interview with Starlog magazine. "If they like my work they are creative ... or they are crazy."

His mother Melli, to whom he showed a lifelong devotion, encouraged her son's passion for art, despite his unconventional obsession with death and sex that found little appreciation in 1960s rural Switzerland. The host of one of his early exhibitions was reportedly forced to wipe the spit of disgusted neighbours off the gallery windows every morning.

A collection of his early work, "Ein Fressen fuer den Psychiater" — "A Feast for the Psychiatrist" — used mainly ink and oil, but Giger soon discovered the airbrush and pioneered his own freehand technique.

He also created sculptures, preferably using metal, Styrofoam and plastic. 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.

His distinctive style shot to global fame when he created the "Alien" for Ridley Scott's 1979 iconic film, with help from "ET" creator Carlo Rambaldi.

The nightmarish skeletal monster, with its elongated metallic head and mouth filled with vampire-sharp teeth, earned Giger an Oscar in 1980 for the Best Achievement in Visual Effects.

The terrifying costume reportedly sold at auction about a decade ago for US$126,000.

His designs were also centrepieces in a range of other well-known films, including Poltergeist II, directed by Brian Gibson, David Fincher's Alien 3, and Roger Donaldson's 1995 horror movie Species.

The artist also gained international recognition for his often dark and demonic Giger sculptures, as well as for his paintings and furniture.

In 1998, the HR Giger Museum opened in Gruyere, run by the artists wife Carmen Maria Scheifele Giger and housing the biggest collection of his works.

In recent years, a number of international museums, including in Paris, Prague and Vienna, have also presented retrospectives of the artist's work.

Always eager to make his dark, biomechanical world come to life, the artist has also modelled several so-called "Giger Bars", which recreate the atmosphere seen in Alien and other films he worked on. Inside, the chairs are high-backed and skeletal, spinal cords lace Gothic arched ceilings, and head-to-toe sculptures of crying babies cover walls.

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press