Hans Rüdi Giger was born in Chur, Switzerland in 1940. As a child, he suffered from nightmares and also had a fascination with skulls, bones, and Egyptian iconography (such as mummies). Another factor that influenced his work was growing up in close proximity to Nazi Germany in the Second World War.
Giger’s father wanted his son to become a pharmacist, following his own career path. Instead, H.R. Giger studied architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. In the 1960s, he began a career as an industrial designer, but decided to pursue visual arts instead. His early works used ink and oil paints, eventually expanding to use airbrush.
By the 1970s, Giger was known for his strange, nightmarish images. He called the style “biomechanical”, exploring the relationships between bodies and machines. He cited Salvador Dalí and Ernst Fuchs as his inspiration for these works. Later, Dalí and Giger would meet and Dalí eventually showed Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chilean director, famous for Dune) Giger’s work.
Giger’s first foray into film was alongside Jodorowksy, working as a designer for concept art for Dune. That project stalled and Giger turned instead to focus on his own drawings. In 1977, he published his first major collection of these works in a book titled Necronomicon. Working with dark colors and metal sheens through the use of airbrush, Giger created nightmare images of creatures in nature and hooked up to machines.
Director Ridley Scott saw a copy of this book and immediately knew he wanted H.R. Giger on the Alien team.
The famous creature with its oblong head and metallic body came from a combination of two creatures in the book. Though Giger is most known for his work with the Alien film series, he created numerous works for other films, album covers (such as Debbie Harry), and even video games.
In an attempt to put his work further into the world after numerous stalled projects, Giger created Giger Bars. These were a chance to step into the artist’s world, with alien-like skeletons in the stonework and chairs originally designed for Dune. The bars are located in Switzerland; a third one in Tokyo and a “Giger room” in New York no longer exist.
H.R. Giger’s home in Gruyère, Switzerland is now the home of the H.R. Giger museum. He acquired the Saint-Germain castle in 1998, and the people of the town did not want their home to be associated with Giger’s “satanic” images. Nonetheless, tourists regularly come to experience the largest repository of his works.
Giger died in 2014 after sustaining injuries from falling down stairs in his house. He was 74 years old. Giger is remembered for his frightening biomechanical images, and specifically for his contributions to Alien, for which he won an Oscar. Though he felt his Alien works overshadowed the rest of his career, Giger loved his creation. Now, his surrealist imagery is more relevant as 3D printing and genetic engineering push the body ever closer to the mechanical.