Keats wrote “Whatever the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth — whether it existed before or not.” The meaning of this quote mystifies many, but I have always understood it. The greatest artists seem to have some tenebrous connection to a plane of understanding that we somehow glance past, and have even managed to establish considerable real estate there. Some of these include artists I have blogged about before, including Jean “Moebius” Giraud. The very minute you look at their work, a recognition takes place. Back in the recesses of the brain, a sequence of firing neurons unlocks some obscure mystery that provides no immediate answer — but leaves the viewer convinced that “something” is going on, not unlike Spielberg’s Roy Neary in Close Encounters of the Third Kind bewildered by his mashed potatoes. This is the truth of which Keats tell us. H. R. Giger’s art — while not immediately deemed “beautiful” by most — is the stuff of dreams or nightmares, and its own kind of truth.
Like David Cronenberg, who once looked upon the human body as a surrealist canvas with which to illustrate its inner turmoils (compare Max Renn’s bodily infused “cancer gun” in Cronenberg’s classic Videodrome to Giger’s “Birth Machine”), Giger’s art — or more specifically his concept of “biomechanics” — externalized the tropes of mankind by mutating his exterior in an industrialized fashion. He created a world that, while wholly alien, was altogether too familiar once closely inspected.
Speaking of Alien (nyuk nyuk), it was that film that first alerted me to Giger’s art. I vividly remember having a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland that featured a number of Giger’s Alien designs, which I frantically tried to reproduce with oil pastel. My left thumb and forefinger bore a grayish-green stain for several months. The detached intensity of his art, the coldly illuminated environments and their nightmarish denizens looked eerily familiar and simultaneously horrifying. Needless to say, I was in love with Giger’s work and have been ever since.
Giger set a window in the Lovecraftian Wall of Sleep and shone a light into the viscera of mankind’s primal workings. He was able to set that most lofty of goals, and do it in such a way that isolated his vision enough to realize its importance, its truth. Most see his work as “weird” or “surreal”, but I have always appreciated it as a complete aesthetic, with its own archetypes and language. I would imagine he and his fellow Swiss Carl Jung will have a lot to talk about.