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Geiger vs. Dali (Alien Autopsy Remix)*

It’s impossible to recollect what book I was thumbing through when I ran across this sketch by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali. I do recall that I discovered it sometime during my first semester of graphic design school. That would probably date the photocopy that I made of it to sometime in 1994 or ‘95.

Come to think of it, there was this Grateful Dead tie-dye t-shirt wearin’ ex-hippy classmate named Orin who was a fan of Dali. And I do remember that he came to class this one morning with a hairy armful of art books, the majority of which were devoted to the work of Dali. So he must be the source to whom I will credit my discovery of the sketch.

I was never a fan of Dali. As an artist, he has always been responsible for a staggering body of work that generally didn’t appeal to me. And, unlike Orin, I was an infant during the classic summers of Woodstock, have never taken hits of LSD, and did not subconsciously look to surrealist art to remind my brain of any previously experienced “altered states.” What I was at the time was a fan of the Swiss surrealist H.R. Geiger.

When originally introduced to Geiger’s work I was not a fan. Frankly, his art scared the popcorn eating shit out of me as it stalked across the screen in Ridley Scott’s 1977 film Alien. I was 8 years old and – like everyone else in the theater – had never imagined anything as horrifying as a 7-foot creature with an insect-like exo-skeleton, a fleshless skull of a face, retractable inner jaws, razor sharp teeth, and a deformed embryo of a head.

Yeah, for me Geiger’s creature was like a fever-induced nightmare. And any thought I had about being an astronaut ‘when I grow up’ was completely second-guessed once that bad boy hit the screen. After watching Alien, it was hard to imagine walking into a bedroom while the lights were off, let alone exploring the dark outer reaches of space.

Over the years, and especially after the film’s 1985 sequel, I became a fan of Geiger’s work. It was primarily because I had never seen anything like it. And that remained true until that day in the mid-1990s when I ran across a sketch of a deformed humanoid figure by Salvador Dali.

The loose brushwork illustration isn’t dated, and I don’t remember now if there were any details about it on the facing page. But as I walked over to the photocopier to make a duplicate, something about it made me feel sure that the image actually pre-dated the Alien design of H.R. Geiger.

Or maybe it just seemed too unlikely that two artists could separately conceive of such a uniquely grotesque being. It was possible, but seemed highly unlikely. Especially when taking into consideration that Dali was already a world-renowned artist by the time that H.R. Geiger began carving a name for himself in the nightmares of others.

Finding the photocopy again today, I still do think that Dali’s sketch was the inspiration for Geiger’s creature– right down to its jaw line and Stegosaurus plated spine. And it doesn’t make me think any less of his creative genius either, but really illustrates to me that nothing comes from some dark, empty vacuum of space where ‘no one can hear you scream.’ Inspiration, in fact, comes from everything around us. And each generation gets much of theirs from the drawing boards of the past.

– St. Paco

*Originally published in Kung Fu Grip! No. 5

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