5 classic designs by surrealist icon HR Giger

HR Giger RIP

HR Giger, 1940-2014. Photo: Matěj Stuchlík

HR Giger, the Swiss artist best known for creating the creature in Ridley Scott's 1979 movie Alien, has died aged 74.

Giger spent decades working as a surrealist painter, sculptor and set designer. He attracted a cult following for his work, which often incorporated biomechanical and fetishistic imagery.

He began his artistic career by defying his father - who wanted him to train as a chemist - to study Architecture and Industrial Design at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich in the 1960s.

Pop culture figure

For much of his career, he worked mostly in monochrome, using airbrushing to create weirdly nightmarish dreamscapes, although his style later evolved to incorporate pastels, markers and ink.

Giger designed album covers for a range of bands, but none was so notorious as that for the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist. His illustration, entitled Penis Landscape, got the band and distributors arrested and charged with violating the California Penal Code (they were eventually acquitted by a 7-5 jury vote).

His work appeared in movies, including Dune and the Alien series, and he directed a number himself, including Swiss Made (1968), Tagtraum (1973) and Giger's Necronomicon (1975).

Dream job

Giger 'retired' aged 68 but continued working, as he told our sister title ImagineFX in this interview.

"It might sound very strange that an artist can say he's retired, but just because I'm not doing any more paintings, it doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about things," he said at the time. "I still write my diaries and my dream book, where I record my dreams. And drawings too, sometimes. But now I'm mostly concentrating on sculptures and overseeing my bar and museum."

His death is a sad loss to the world of art and to popular culture in general. Here we celebrate his life with a look back at five of his most iconic creations.

01. Debbie Harry album cover

HR Giger

Album cover design for Koo Koo

Giger designed this album cover for Debbie Harry's first solo album following the break up of Blondie, Koo Koo. "Since I'd just had an acupuncture treatment from my friend, the idea of four needles came to me, in which I saw symbols of the four elements, to be combined with her face," the artist explained.

02. Furniture design

HR Giger

Furniture design exhibited in the Giger Museum

Giger's visionary work also extended into the realm of furniture design. These chairs feature in the Giger Museum in Gruyères, Switzerland. Originally the Château St Germain, the artist acquired the building in 1998 and it now houses a permanent collection of his work.

03. Korn - mike stand

HR Giger

Microphone stand for Korn

A big fan of Giger's work, Jonathan Davis of nu metal band Korn commissioned Giger to design and sculpt a mike stand that was "biomechanical, erotic, and movable". Its design was later adapted to a fine art sculpture entitled 'Nubian Queen'.

04. The Alien

HR Giger

Creature design for Alien (1979)

Giger's iconic design for the Alien in Ridley Scott's 1979 movie was inspired by his painting Necronom IV. He also created other designs, including 'The Derelict' and the 'Space Jockey', which appeared in successive Alien movies right up to Prometheus.

05. Birth Machine

HR Giger

Birth Machine sculpture. Photo: Matěj Stuchlík

This 500lb aluminium cast sculpture is 2m high, and is exhibited in front of the HR Giger Museum in Switzerland. Based on his 1967 Birth Machine painting on the theme of overpopulation, it depicts the cutaway of a pistol where the 'bullets' are crouching, mechanical-looking babies.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.