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'Alien' artist Giger: Monsters came from my nightmares

By Laura Allsop for CNN
  • H.R. Giger is the creator of the Alien from Ridley Scott's 1979 film
  • The moster and other creatures in his work were inspired by nightmares
  • Giger's film and art work is on show across Europe this Spring

(CNN) -- It is fitting that the creator of one of the most heinous and iconic movie monsters of all time should have once been plagued by nightmares.

Swiss artist H.R. Giger brought his night terrors to the big screen in Ridley Scott's critically-acclaimed 1979 film "Alien."

The iconic extraterrestrial and the myriad other monsters in Giger's early paintings and sculptures were inspired by nightmares that he would sketch out upon waking.

Giger told CNN: "I feel very, very safe and happy and I have no more nightmares but at the time, in earlier days, I could heal myself through doing my work."

Those who have seen the film will find the image of the alien hard to shake: an empty-eyed, salivating beast, it was taken from Giger's 1977 book of images, "Necronomicon," which Ridley Scott was given during the pre-production stage of "Alien."

I have not to work absolutely now, I like to be free to dream.
-- H.R. Giger, artist

Giger was promptly commissioned to create the film's eponymous creature and in 1980, won an Academy Award for "Best Achievement for Visual Effects."

The alien and other creatures, which Giger affectionately refers to as "my monsters" were used in all the subsequent "Alien" films. Recently, Giger was in talks with Scott for an "Alien" prequel, though that project has since morphed into a different science fiction film.

Giger's fantastical and otherworldy art is well-suited to science-fiction and horror-movie making. In addition to "Alien," he worked as a designer on the 1995 sci-fi horror film "Species," and as a conceptual artist for the 1986 film "Poltergeist II: The Other Side."

And in the 1970s, he worked on production designs for experimental director Alejandro Jodorowsky's doomed adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel, "Dune."

An exhibition celebrating his film design work is opening in March at the Kunsthaus Wien in Vienna in March. But Giger began his career as an artist and continues to draw.

Recurring themes and visuals in his work include the "Birth Machine," a strange apparatus featuring hollow-eyed babies peering out of test tubes; and a woman staring out from a mask of snakes.

I think his ideas are very existential.
--Stina Hogkvist, curator, Take Me To Your Leader
  • Ridley Scott
  • Movies
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A solo exhibition of Giger's work is currently on view in a castle in the sleepy Swiss village of Sarnen, while sketches and early film props are currently on view as part of a group show at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, called Take Me To Your Leader.

Giger's vision may be frightening, says the show's curator Stina Hogkvist, but it is also avant-garde.

"He can't really be defined in the simple way," she said. "Of course it can be scary but it can also be dystopian."

"I think his ideas are very existential," Hogkvist continued. "What makes up a human being; when does a life start, when does it end; what is natural and what is unnatural. It's always interesting and always relevant."

Nowadays, Giger, who is in his 70s, contents himself with drawing, writing in his diary and with his museum in Gruyeres, which houses his own work but also an art collection boasting works by Salvador Dali and Ernst Fuchs.

"I have not to work absolutely now. I like to be free to dream," he said.

With as febrile an imagination as his, future visions may well prove to be out of this world.