Andrew Serong

A hobby blog. Expect cats.

H.R. Giger (1940 - 2014)

May 14, 2014

Li II
The Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and designer H.R. Giger passed away this week. That name is so deeply entwined with my childhood and the earliest memories I have of true creative inspiration.

I was probably a bit too young to be getting into Giger. I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of his iconic Xenomorph design, and Aliens (1986) was by far one of my favourite movies as a kid. I remember seeing it on TV, along with the warning that it was the scariest film my older brothers had ever seen. But Cameron's action masterpiece and its terrifying universe was just the beginning.

Games were expensive and hard to come by for a kid in the early 90s. There was a local magazine, Megazone that I would read religiously, poring over the details of upcoming titles. A preview and a couple of screenshots would fill my imagination, and the games that I imagined were of course always better than the actual titles. But of all the games I read about, Dark Seed (1992) (issue #23 Aug - Sept 1992) was the one that truly haunted me. Using Giger's artwork as a starting point (much like Alien), this adventure game explored a world where a parallel universe (the dark world) bled into our world through a haunted mansion. The main character had an alien embryo implanted in his skull, and it was a race against time to stop the aliens from coming into our world and destroying humanity. Or thereabouts.

I was only 8 when I first heard of Dark Seed, and reading about the game was my entrée into the art world. The enigmatic figure of Giger and his incredible landscapes captured my imagination along with the promise that his artwork would be rendered in amazing high resolution 640x400 16 colour (yes 16, not 16-bit) graphics!

It was actually a very frustrating game to play, especially for a kid. But goddamn if it wasn't one of the scariest games ever. And the images of his artwork appropriated for the game, and the unusual box art based on his piece Li II, foretold of the macabre horror buried within.

Oh, that dark, mysterious world that sat just beside our world. I'd daydream about this all the time. I'd lie on the trampoline out the back looking up at the pine tree overhanging the yard, wondering at this whole other surreal world. And just like kids a decade earlier, terrified of the facehugger in Alien, the alien embryo in Darkseed chilled me to the bone.

Like I said, I was probably a bit young to be playing this game or to be watching Aliens. But a few years later, when one of my brothers got a copy of the book HR Giger ARh+, I remember poring over it just like I did the copy of Megazone. In it was not just Giger's incredible artwork, which had already started to inform my imagination in so many different ways, but the story of his early life and how he came to be an artist.

Giger was the first real artist I had become aware of. By this I mean, at the core of his story, throughout all of his work, was his singular vision, style, taste, aesthetic. Through his own art and all of his commissioned work, his voice came through, or rather, another world (just as in Dark Seed) spilled through into ours. The very idea that he could develop his own taste and style to such a pure and divergent extent so as to build a universe all his own was profoundly inspiring. Not too much later, I would discover Nine Inch Nails, and become a lifelong fan of Trent Reznor, another artist creating work like no other.

What do I mean by 'like no other'? I don't mean that there aren't similar artists or artists who inspired these people. I mean that they follow a path no-one else can see. By the time you're a teenager, you're already steeped in an institutionalised world where approval, community, and financial reward are massive factors. But as a kid, art school, the art world, critics, and paying the rent do not mean anything. Fame doesn't mean anything. What does? Your brain could explode and an alien embryo will escape and destroy humanity. A dark world filled with unknowable horrors awaits just outside this reality.

I was too young to get into Giger, but I am so, so glad I discovered him when I did. It meant that a life of deep artistic imagination was introduced to me before so many societal concepts. Also, whenever you read about Giger now, everyone emphasises the sexual imagery in his work. At this, I really can't stress enough just how much I was too young to get into Giger, but again, I am so glad I did. I did not fob the artist off for the obvious explicit imagery, nor did I even see the coital depictions hidden in his landscapes. Rather, the artwork played over my conscious mind and buried itself deep in my imaginative make-up.

Whenever people decry contemporary creative media and how it's affecting young people's minds and their ability to imagine, I am reminded of this experience from my childhood. I discovered art thanks to the work of game designers (in this case, lead designer Mike Dawson). And my ability to imagine, to think up stories, to pursue a creatively and spiritually fulfilling life is deeply informed by my earliest experiences of visual art.

Rest in peace H.R. Giger. What a legacy.

2 comments:

  1. So well expressed. Takes me back, brother.

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  2. Nicholas HudsonEllisMay 14, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    Great post Andy, thanks for sharing this. I remember pouring over his books as a teen and being transfixed. I never played Dark Seed though, I will have to correct that oversight.

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