Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World opens with an inexplicably gripping scene in which the artist is sketching from a vintage Eames Lounge Chair by Vitra. The chair never looks out of place, no matter where it is—even in a studio filled with paint and skulls—but it’s the seated artist who steals the show.
Film reviewer Barbra Loveless wrote of the opening scene: “To conquer fear, you must look it directly in the eye. The two white hands rest on the charcoal-colored book like pale animals. There is a distant hum when they begin to move. You cannot hear it, but you can feel it, electric, pulsing. The hairs on the back of your neck seem to stand up as the hands begin to move. H.R. Giger begins to sketch, hands spiraling, a conduit, a maelstrom. Will you look away? You cannot.”
H.R. Giger is recognized as the world’s foremost artist of Fantastic Realism. His artwork has influenced generations of fans and artists alike, with adaptations of his style seen in everything from films to record albums. Giger’s most distinctive work depicts humans and machines in what is often described as cold, nightmarish, and ominously futuristic. It was an interconnected relationship that Giger called, “biomechanical.”
When I was a young boy, I was obsessed with skulls and mummies and things like that.
Born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland, Giger moved to Zurich in 1962 where he studied architecture and industrial design at the school of Applied Arts. By 1964, he was producing his first artworks. They consisted primarily of ink drawings and oil paintings and led to his first solo exhibition two years later.
Playmate, 1966, Ink on tracing paper on wood
Around 1969, Giger discovered the airbrush. Used in tandem with his unique freehand painting style, the tool became a catalyst for the surrealistic biomechanical dreamscapes that he pioneered. “I like elegance.” Giger said. “I like art nouveau; a stretched line or curve. These things are very much in the foreground of my work.”
Li I, 1974, Acrylic and ink on photo
I’m a painter, really. To be successful, you have to go to Hollywood, and I didn’t like to travel.
Giger’s most famous work may be Necronomicon, a 1977 book of paintings that inspired the look and feel of Ridleys Scott’s hit film Alien. Scott hired Giger, who played a pivotal role in the film by creating the infamous Xenomorph creature and all of its life cycles, as well as the film’s extraterrestrial environments, later described by James Cameron, director of the sequel, as a “Bizarre, psycho-sexual landscape of the subconscious.”
In 1980, Giger’s contribution to Alien was recognized with an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Many, including Cameron, attribute much of the franchise’s success to the visual stamp placed by Giger.
Wrack (Detail), 1978, Acrylic on paper on wood
Giger worked on other film projects as well—nearly a dozen in total, plus a few of his own. He has credits in all of the Alien movies, including Prometheus, which includes designs from the first film, extraterrestrial murals made specifically for Prometheus, and the Temple designs from his concept work made for a separate project: Dune.
Giger’s achievements extend into other media outside of painting. From the very beginning of his career, he worked in sculpture. According to a biography on the artist’s website, he “had an abiding desire to extend the core elements of his artistic vision beyond the confines of paper into the 3D reality of his surroundings.”
Beggar, 1976, 58×58×75 cm, Bronze (Photo by: Matthias Belz)
His 3D works include furniture and later led to interior design projects as well. After completing his studies in Zurich, Giger worked for designer Andreas Christen, creating office furniture until he was convinced by a friend to make a full-time leap into his own creative projects.
In the early 1970’s, Giger designed a chair called the Harkonnen Chair. He made it for the highly ambitious, but never-produced film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, originally to be directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky (check out the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune for a fascinating story). The chairs, named after Dune’s villain, Baron Harkonnen, feature a crown of three skulls and an outwardly curved spine for the backrest. These intricate handmade works were incredibly time consuming to produce.
The Harkonnen Chair, this one without the triple skull crown.
Unfortunately, after Jodorowsky’s film was scrapped, the Harkonnen Chair wasn’t used in the subsequent 1984 version by David Lynch. You can, however, purchase your own Harkonnen Chair today, as they were later produced by Giger and sold in either fiberglass or aluminum—two materials Charles and Ray Eames also used in their own designs.
Dune II, 1975, Acrylic on paper. More work from the never-completed Jodorowsky project.
Today, Giger’s Harkonnen Chair and some of his other furniture designs, including a simpler and more functional chair, are featured in two Giger Bars that he designed in Switzerland—one in his hometown of Chur and the other in Gruyeres. Both locations offer a place to experience 3D elements of his world while enjoying a cocktail.
The Giger Bar in Gruyeres, Switzerland, home of The H.R. Giger Museum, which showcases the largest collection of the artist’s work on permanent public display, encompassing his paintings, sculptures, furniture and film designs, dating from the early 1960’s to the present day.
There is hope and a kind of beauty in there somewhere, if you look for it.
Despite the opening scene of Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World, in which the artist is sketching from the Eames Lounge Chair, he didn’t usually sit in that seat while painting. “I think Giger found the Eames chair much too comfortable to sit on as he worked,” explained Les Barany, the artist’s long-time friend and agent. Despite Giger’s background in mid-century modern furniture, he preferred something much less comfortable while he brought to life his remarkable visions: a stool with the original seat removed and replaced with a bicycle seat.
Also unique to his studio was a very innovative easel that Charles and Ray would have enjoyed seeing. “The hydraulic-controlled panel moved up and down on tracks at the press of a button through a slit Giger cut through the floor, so he would not have to stand or stoop to reach the sections of the paper he was working on,” explained Barany.
Giger’s Eames Lounge Chair by Vitra, inside his studio. His work stool with the bicycle seat can be seen in the background, in front of his innovative easel. (© 2016 Andy Davies www.scifihotel.com)
Some people would say my paintings show a future world and maybe they do, but I paint from reality.
H.R. Giger passed away in May of 2014. He continued to create to his last days. According to the Giger Estate, the artist spent many hours in his favorite Eames Lounge Chair while relaxing watching television shows with his wife, Carmen, and reading books, two things he loved to do.
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