H.R. Giger, a Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor, and set designer famed for his biomechanical creatures, otherworldly landscapes, and frightening, yet memorable, imagery of grotesque sensuality, was one of the main artists of Fantastic Realism. Giger was bitten by the creative bug at a young age and went on to earn a degree in Interior and Industrial Design. The sculptor was a loving and generous soul, despite his surrealist and nightmare creations. Giger was dedicated to his work until the end, and his family, friends, and acquaintances in the arts and music will remember him lovingly. His name became associated with the science fiction film ‘Alien,’ in which he designed the extraterrestrial creature. The film altered the science fiction genre’s landscape. Apparently, the design of ‘Alien’ was inspired by Giger’s nightmares, which he used to doodle on his artist pad. His creations graced museum walls, posters, books, album covers, furniture, entire buildings, countless movie sets, and more throughout a career that spanned more than five decades. However, this compassionate and humble artist shied away from the spotlight, preferring to let his work speak for itself. Continue reading to learn more about the legendary artist, sculptor, and set designer’s life and work.
Childhood and Adolescence
Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger, better known by his initials H.R., was born on February 5, 1940, in Chur, Graubünden, Switzerland, to Melly Giger-Meier and Hans Richard Giger.
His parents were friendly to him and his older sister, Iris, who was seven years his senior. His family resided in a small, dismal flat above his father’s drugstore, where he worked as a chemist.
Pictures of Jean Cocteau’s film ‘Beauty and the Beast’ were his first introduction to the art world, which he received in 1944 through magazines from American soldiers recuperating from skiing injuries who stayed at his home.
He started school in 1946, at the ‘Catholic Marienheim,’ but soon transferred to ‘Auntie Grittli’s Reform(ational) Kindergarten.’
Giger initially came into contact with death when his father received a skull as a promotional present, which he promptly seized as his personal toy.
He received a certificate in drawing after graduating from high school in 1958, followed by a few years of practical training from an architect and developer, as well as completion of military college as a mortar gunner.
He studied at Zurich’s ‘School of Applied Arts’ from 1962 to 1965, graduating from the ‘Department of Interior and Industrial Design.’
From 1966 to 1968, Giger worked full-time for Andreas Christen as an office furniture designer, producing some ink drawings, oil paintings, and his first polyester sculptures in his spare time.
He quit his employment in 1968 to dedicate his whole attention to art, which included a commission to construct movie props, which featured the design of his first extraterrestrial entity.
In 1969, the same year as his first shows outside of Zurich, Switzerland’s first poster printing company released his first collection of posters with worldwide distribution.
He was commissioned by the rock band ‘Emerson, Lake and Palmer’ to design the cover for their 1973 album ‘Brain Salad Surgery.’
In the 1970s, he began using an airbrush and established his unique style of painstakingly detailed, otherworldly images of the macabre, depicted in dark grays and blacks. He became renowned as the world’s premier airbrush artist.
Giger was commissioned by filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1976 to work as part of an all-star production crew on the famed unmade film ‘Dune,’ for which he created the sci-fi universe of ‘The Harkonnen.’
Director Ridley Scott selected H.R. Giger for the development of the science fiction film ‘Alien’ after seeing his photographs published in 1977’s ‘Necronomicon.’ The ‘Xenomorph’ creature’s lavish clothing in the film includes Rolls-Royce parts, rib bones, and reptile vertebrae.
His first entire environment design, the ‘Giger Bar,’ opened in Tokyo in 1988, but he was so unsatisfied with its execution that he personally oversaw the interior design and opening of a second bar in Chur four years later.
On March 19, 1996, the official Giger Internet site, www.HRGiger.com, went live, attracting over 200,000 visitors from over 100 countries in its first year.
The world’s biggest collection of H.R. Giger’s artwork was housed in the four-story ‘H.R. Giger Museum,’ which opened in June 1998 in the Chateau St. Germain in the medieval walled city of Gruyères, Switzerland.
The ceremonial opening of the ‘H.R. Giger Museum Bar,’ a 400-year-old venue transformed by Giger’s famously hideous but nevertheless beautiful creations, took place on April 12, 2003.
Since 2004, major institutions all around the world have honored him with retrospectives of his work.
He worked until the day he died, leaving an unknown number of incomplete and unreleased projects in his wake.
Major Projects of H. R. Giger
The lithograph of a biomechanoid, ‘Necronom IV,’ which caught the eye of Ridley Scott and provided the foundation for the Xenomorph creature in ‘Alien,’ was included in the most well-known collection of his work, 1977’s book, ‘Necronomicon.’
Giger’s ideas for the title creature, all stages of its lifecycle, spacecraft, and extraterrestrial habitats in the 1979 picture ‘Alien’ not only shot him to prominence, but also changed the science fiction cinema genre.
Achievements & Awards
On April 14, 1980, Giger and the ‘Alien’ special effects crew received a ‘Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.’
Giger received the renowned ‘La Médaille de la Ville de Paris’ award on December 17, 2004 at Paris City Hall.
In 2013, he was named to the ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.’
Personal History and Legacy
His nine-year romance with actress and muse Li Tobler ended in 1975 when she committed suicide.
Giger and his first wife, Mia Bonzanigo, married in 1979 and divorced a year and a half later.
In 2006, he married his second wife, Carmen Maria Scheifele Giger.
Giger died of injuries sustained in a fall down stairs in his Zurich home on May 12, 2014, after a brief hospitalization.
H. R. Giger Net Worth
He began painting as a sort of therapy after his first nightmare and the onset of night terrors in 1970, referring to his art as “self-psychiatry” at times.
This well-known set designer was terrified of flying, and director Ridley Scott had to persuade him to go to London’s ‘Shepperton Studios’ for the start of ‘Alien.’
The punk band Dead Kennedys were charged with obscenity after using Giger’s ‘Landscape XX,’ also known as ‘Penis Landscape,’ in the packaging of their 1985 album ‘Frankenchrist.’