If the purpose of art is to hold a mirror up to reality and encourage us to look at the world in new and different ways, then Hans Rudolf Giger was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. For over 40 years, from his first solo exhibition in 1966 to his 2011 death, Giger warped reality for audiences in art galleries and movie theaters around the world. His 1977 work, Necronom IV, caught the attention of director Ridley Scott and earned him a job as set designer for the 1980 film Alien.
Giger’s work on the film won an Oscar as well as an appreciative international following. Several books followed, as did at least two “Giger bars” built around his designs, which must be a lot of fun to drink around. H. R. Giger slipped and fell in May 2014, and died from complications in the hospital in Zurich shortly after.
A body of work like Giger’s cries out for some kind of explanation. If the man had grown up locked in a cage, or if his earliest memory was of the Joker killing his parents, then the great Gothic surrealism of his later work would make a kind of sense. Actually, his childhood in the small Swiss town of Chur couldn’t have been more ordinary. His father was a pharmacist, and his mother was generally supportive of young Hans Ruedi’s work, even though he spent his teen years sketching pornography for his friends. Rather than a horror story of a childhood, Giger seems to have walked out of the same kind of upbringing that would later produce the Baader-Meinhof gang: bland European weltschmerz.