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The Art World is Too Safe Now: H.R. Giger has Died

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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No. 217 from Brain Salad Surgery, © HR Giger, 1973. Cover for the album by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The art world has become safer, less dangerous and less disturbing than it ought to be today. The giant in the night, H.R. Giger, has died, it is being reported.

Hans Ruedi Giger gave us machines moving like flesh. His airbrush compositions are strongly considered to be descendants of Dalí though I have always felt the unease, the dark mirror of the 1890 Symbolists behind his work. If you cracked open the biomechanoid shell, I always assumed the devastating mythologies of Khnopff, Böcklin and Delville would come pouring out. His paintings were the work of sperm, bullet casings, grotty stone and soft cheekbones. It was not made to be beautiful, it was made to unsettle.

Hommage à Böcklin, © H. R. Giger, 1977. This painting done in Giger’s signature biomechanoid style is an homage to Symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead, a painting with many versions from the 1880′s.

H.R. Giger was a giant of the 20th Century, I am sure fine art history and illustration books and blogs will record through history. From Fine Art to Concept Art: paintings, movies and even inspiration for video games. H.R. Giger was the bridge from fine art galleries to the interactive age. He saw what we could become and shook us with it.

For those who want to learn more about him, I highly recommend HR Giger ARh+ published by Taschen: much of it is in the artist’s own words. In his biography I discovered we had a shared childhood nightmare, about an endless shaft of thin stairs leading down in the dark. That nightmare felt like a link to Giger, and from him I became more interested in the Symbolists, studying them in university.

Giger’s work unsettled me as a painter and drove me like it did so many others.  Are you another painter who paints, in some small way, because of Giger? Share your stories and links to your art in the comments below. Perhaps we will follow-up with a post of art inspired by Giger here on Symbiartic.

Giger is dead. His shadow remains cast over our future. The shadow moves.

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Condolences to his friends and to his wife, Carmen , Director of the HR Giger Museum.

Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite and is on Instagram. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. fer castano 7:44 am 05/13/2014

    Giger was a truly innovator artist. This is a wonderful tribute.

    Link to this
  2. 2. jplatt 8:39 am 05/13/2014

    Sad news. What a mad genius.

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  3. 3. NicholausLee 9:24 am 05/13/2014

    Sad to hear the news. He was hands down the first artist to truly inspire and influence me as a kid, and made me want to paint.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Glendon Mellow 1:56 pm 05/13/2014

    Thank you fer.

    JPlatt: Few people deserve to be called that, but he did in the most positive way possible.

    Me too, Nicholaus. And thank you for the link to explore.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Halbred 4:04 pm 05/13/2014

    Giger’s art always made me feel uncomfortable and disturbed, but in the best way possible. I am greatly drawn to disturbing, otherworldly art. Giger’s paintings were a certain biomechanical sort of body horror; a melding of flesh and steel, organic in a way–one wonders if the flesh-and-blood components are aware, tortured in their steel cages.

    I was never all that interested in the strong sexual themes in his work–not because I was adverse to them, but they just didn’t interest me. That wasn’t what I took from his work. Of course, he’ll forever be remembered for his work on the Alien films, but it’s much more personal for me. His body of work encompasses themes which evoke fear and discomfort (in me, anyway). Art NEEDS that. The world is much poorer for his passing.

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  6. 6. hinesta 1:48 am 05/14/2014

    Such sad news! As a fan of sci-fi and surrealism, I recently saw the indie movie Jodorowsky’s Dune a documentary which is receiving some acclaim. It’s a story about a movie that was never made. But the incredible artists’ who produced the storyboards (Moebius), characters (Chris Foss), and backgrounds (H.R Gieger) set the stage for all future sci-fi movies. Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, and Mick Jagger were to star in the movie…if you’re a fan of Gieger, go see this movie!

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  7. 7. dregstudios 3:04 pm 05/15/2014

    Fusing the erotic, gothic and surreal Giger was an art movement unto himself. He inspired me from an early age with his fantastic dreamscapes and esoteric imagery. I was compelled to illustrate a tribute to him this week drawing imagery from his own works including Alien and the Birthing Machine at . Drop by and share how his artwork opened your own mind!

    Link to this

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