“You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s…only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear- the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with…hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness…Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or- I hope to Heaven- ever will again” (1).
When H. P. Lovecraft penned those words in 1926, little did he know that out of the earth’s primal ooze, another man would arise, one who captured the ancestral memories of fright.
The man was Hans Rudolf Giger. That Pickman-incarnate was born February 5, 1940, in Chur, Switzerland. Giger’s morbid artwork work inspired the Xenomorph extraterrestrial in the movie Alien. The influential director Oliver Stone is not known for delving into existential darkness. Yet, his opinion about Giger’s place in the world of art and culture is noteworthy:
“’I do not know anybody else,’ he said, ‘who has so accurately portrayed the soul of modern humanity. A few decades from now when they will talk about the twentieth century, they will think of Giger’” (2).
And H.R. Giger departed from the earthly spheres on May 12, 2014.
Giger dredged the hereditary memories of immemorial fear. Like the Grecian god Charon, he poled the haggard ferryboat to the dark underworld. Upon Giger’s return, he captured hints of the demons and dreamscapes that vibrate with life beyond the prosaic world.
In this essay, we will try to gain a sense of the cosmic grandeur in Giger’s art that excites in us.
Seven Ways H.R. Giger touched Our Instinctual Fears:
1) Giger’s art stirs up desires for the forbidden and taboo. Once, Giger’s paintings would have been declared blasphemous. Zealots would have burned him at the stake as Warlock. As one whom interviewed Giger, surrounding the making of Alien wrote:
“…The hint of witchcraft was surely confirmed when the chief warlock – Giger – ordered crates of freshly boiled animal bones directly from the slaughterhouse. They were used to create molds for the derelict’s cadaverous walls: horizontal ribs crossed with vertical spines cords. If you want an egg to appear fleshy, use real flesh. If you want an alien spaceship to feature a carapace of bones, use real bones…” (3).
Normally, when one wishes to summons a demon, they inscribe the pentagram, sit in the resulting symbol and protective circle, and recite the necessary invocation. Giger’s art bypassed the Ouija board or the Scything Crystal, to contact the darkness in each of us.
2) Giger’s art titillates us with Necromantic Puzzles. When one lovingly fondles the bones of another, strange thing happen. Occult visions are invoked.
Giger was an artist of the ossuary, mimicking the bone chapels of the world in his cosmic pyramids and cyclopean temples. He took old dead bones from our primeval past, and like a modern Joseph Curwen, revived them into living, breathing, slavering nightmares.
As Giger aficionados tattooed themselves with the artist’s otherworldly images, they mystically enter one of those off-world temples, and join the pageant of weird adherents in worshiping the Old Ones:
“…The…tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos…was associated with beliefs which were secrets known only to members of the priestly caste…historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.” (4).
3) Giger’s art captivates the morbid curiosity that causes us to gaze on car wrecks.
Giger’s work imitates descriptions of Pickman’s art:
“God, how that man could paint! There was a study called ‘Subway Accident,’ in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform” (5).
Giger’s work was the art of the train wreck, where twisted bodies, fused with metal and glass, recombine in all matter of surrealistic forms – art as mutation, art as mutilation. Giger captured in art, the prose of Clive Barker’s, Midnight Meat Train – with subways cars filled with butchered human bodies, suspended as if in a slaughterhouse, awaiting their consumption by Manhattan’s Old Ones.
Was it any reason why Clive Barker said of Giger:
“…Like all great visionaries, Giger…plunges his hands into the raw stuff of our subconscious, and using methodologies that are unique to him creates a state that is rigorous, hierarchical and, for all its abysmal depths, inviting. ‘ In mapping the tribal lands of our psyches, Giger gives us fresh access to them. He frees us, in essence, to wander there, encouraged by the fact that others have gone before. He makes us brave, and I can think of few higher ambitions for any art. Following where he’s gone, we discover that this new country, which we came into fearful of our sanity, about our lives in countless places. We are not, after all, strangers here. It’s the world we must return into the world of the mortgage payment and the tax return; of the domestic tiff and the public slight that seems chilling, repulsive, alien…” (6).
4) Giger’s art illuminates the primal worlds of the Witchdoctor. Giger traffics in the unwashed, undefined realms of the Shaman.
Where others fled, Giger made his home. What others dread, he made his habitat. What others fight to suppress, he drug back to the surface. Giger brought to a canvas near you the hidden world that ancient shamans saw beyond our own, as they sat in mescaline-induced stupors, with shining streams of drool, driveling down their chins, and onto their heaving chests.
The sum of other worlds remained largely unexplored in either man’s lifetimes. Life beyond the electron microscope, beneath the ocean depths, behind the three dimensions, and beyond the twinkling stars remains unknown and untouched.
Entire libraries of DNA remain unread and untapped.
Giger’s images bore inside you, like the insidious Brown Jerkins, or Giger’s own immature alien chest-buster. The fear it happens upon eats away at your insides. The raw things of the world that cultivated and civilized Homo sapiens avoid are, with little warning, thrust upon our screaming senses. His Xenomorph mimics the dark that slithers out of our collective darkness.
Will they enrich or eviscerate us, as we begin to explore their domains?
5) Giger’s art dissects Lovecraft’s living cosmos. He performed an autopsy on the universe, while it still vibrated with life, aware of its violation.
The maniacal chaos of the demon-sultan Azathoth who inspired lines like:
“…Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes…” (7).
That same Azathoth lies butchered by Giger’s palette knife like a common lab frog.
The archaeology of the cosmos is a study in anatomy versus a study in architecture: veins and sinews appear instead of electrical conduits. Ligaments and ribs show up where you expect potable water lines and sewers. Bridges and scaffolds have mouths and faces.
Giger, as Lovecraft before him, turned the cosmos is some kind of an enormous, incomprehensible entity:
“…Lovecraft’s…focus on the cosmic horrific theme of existence-as-nightmare was balanced and complemented by a deep craving for liberation into transcendent realms of beauty and bliss…The stories of H.P. Lovecraft are…about incursions from the cosmic beyond that open up vistas of wonder and awe. They’re…about dislocations in time and space that offer a paradoxically fearsome and exhilarating experience of liberation from natural law. They’re…about the longing for a transcendent experience of absolute beauty. This duality…is a part of the age-old tradition of fantastic storytelling…Should incursions from beyond the cosmic order, breakdowns in natural law, and the destruction of the physical body be viewed as joyful or terrifying, exhilarating or horrifying, dreadful or liberating? The answer has long emerged from the collective unconscious, often in the form of fantastic stories…as an unqualified, ‘Yes…’” (8).
Each of Giger’s paintings represents a sensuous invitation to join oneself with Azathoth, to lose oneself in the immense, corporeal conflagration.
6) Giger art embraces the aesthetics of death rather than life. Giger fell madly in love with death, long before his brief infatuation with life. His tryst with the Grim Reaper became a driving passion that formed the core of his life.
Giger’s biomechanical orgies capture the necrophiliac thrills of the tomb given breath in The Loved Dead:
“…I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul a thirst for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction…” (9).
Giger brought his homicidal photo-realism to everything he touched. And his disturbing photographic memory emptied the undigested contents of the bowels of the heavens and the earth onto his canvases; the things we could not stomach were the curtain of normalcy to be pulled aside, and we saw the darkness that lay just beyond our five senses.
7) Giger’s biomechanoid visions of humanity bother us. Our lives are now governed by machines, from the smartphones we constantly pore over to the computers many of us serve before each day.
The fine line between being served by our machines to having to serve them blurs with each new jump in technology. The borging of humanity will not come at the hands of an all-powerful race that invades out space in enormous technological Rubik’s cubes.
Since most of the enslavement will be done invisibly, by future enhancements of Wi-Fi connections, the horror of assimilation portrayed in Star Trek will become an accepted rite-of-passage.
Giger’s art X-rays the reality of man/machine interface. That art reveals how far we are separated and alienated from nature, the environment for which we were bred.
Ultimately, Giger’s art threatens to release the dark jinn that resides in each of us, one who is willing to do our darkest bidding – yet we fear the unintended consequences if those primal urges are fulfilled.
Hans Rudolph Giger touched on the existential tensions that confront and confound current generations.
Giger employed the tools of today’s alienated youth. His use of the airbrush allowed HRG to crystallize in paints, the personal estrangement and loss of a sense of self that Graffiti and Tattoo artists strive to express.
In a cosmos, where we have become machines, where we have become functions, in a world where the marks of individuality become fewer and stereotypical – Giger has captured the ultimate mechanization of man. He depicted on canvas a future when we become cogs in the machines. The day many modern philosophers once warned us about – one where man serves machines when man becomes machine – has arrived.
(1) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(2) “H. R. Giger and the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century,” by Stanislav Grof, The Primal Psychotherapy Page, 2005.
(3) “How H.R. Giger’s Brilliant Madness Helped Make Alien ‘Erotic’,” by Charlie Jane Anders, IO9, October 20, 2011.
(4) Tattoo History: A Source Book, by Steve Gilbert, December 1, 2000, p. 158.
(5) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(6) “Introduction,” by Clive Barker, Giger’s Necronomicon 2, English Edition, 1992.
(7) The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.
(8) “Lovecraft’s Longing,” by Matt Cardin, http://www.teemingbrain.com, November 1, 2009.
(9) The Loved Dead, by H.P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr., 1919.
John A. DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft essayist, horror, and fantasy author. He lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZine, Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Tigershark eZine, Turn To Ash, and The Eldritch Literary Review Journal. John is presently editing his original epic fantasy work, Dark Union Rising.
Mr. DeLaughter says about this article: “The essay “H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares” is a distillation of two articles I wrote about H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger (September 21, 2014 & July 10, 2015) on the Lovecraft eZine website.”