One of several large format hardcovers covering H.R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist whose paintings have irrevocably changed the course of fantastic art. Giger is best known as the designer of ALIEN, for which he won an Academy Award, but there’s far, far more to the man and his art.
H.R. GIGER’S NECRONOMICON, which features full color reproductions of many of Giger’s paintings along with extensive biographical info (and a rather dull critical appraisal by Fritz Billeter), was initially published in Swiss back in 1977. The edition under review is the 1991 English language version with a newly written introduction by Clive Barker.
Barker makes a good case for Giger’s brilliance (“To simply characterize Giger as “the artist of ALIEN” is like calling Michelangelo the set designer for THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY”), and claims, controversially, that “what has been most influential, subversive and philosophically radical in the fantastique has scarcely appeared on gallery walls at all.” He’s correct, of course.
H.R. Giger is unquestionably one of the finest artists anywhere, yet his work isn’t rated by the arty elite. Giger doesn’t sell to private collectors (although he acknowledges that “I would earn much more by doing so”), preferring instead to have his art disseminated to the public through posters and books like this one. That stance has I’m sure irked the glitterati, but for the rest of us it’s a rare and precious gift.
In skill and vision Giger’s nightmarish art, created with wizardly airbrushing, is simply among the best there is, fully equal to that of M.C. Escher and Hieronymus Bosch. Giger is an obsessive creator--literally every inch of his canvas is utilized--and also a committed one. We might complain about certain aspects of his work, but his unwavering commitment to excellence is never in question.
In NECRONOMICON’S biographical text Giger details his upbringing in a small Swiss village, and how a still from Cocteau’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST instilled a lifelong passion for dreamlike fantasy. Included in this book are several pen-and-ink drawings Giger made in the late sixties, and examples his early experiments with airbrushing. It wasn’t until the mid-seventies that he hit upon his signature style.
This brings up the one
problem I have with Giger’s art: too much of it looks the same. The murky
grayish color scheme is a constant, as are constantly repeated motifs like
smoke, screaming baby faces, wormy funnels, baphomet heads and humanoid
creatures similar to the one featured in ALIEN. It’s categorically untrue that
if you’ve seen one Giger painting you’ve seen them all, but it is a fact that if
you’ve seen one you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect from the others.