The Dark Side of the Moon - Paul Booth & H.R.Giger

Published: 09 December, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 206, December, 2011

Some things come under the banner of ‘total no-brainer’. Paul Booth and Hans Giger together at Giger’s very own museum in the Swiss Alps? We were at the airport before they had even completed the press statement…

The H.R. Giger Museum is based in the beautiful, medieval town of Gruyeres located on top of a hill at the foot of Swiss Alps. It’s quite easy to get there from Geneva Airport; taking a train that arcs around the northern shore of Lake Geneva will offer you some scenic views too. From the train station it’s a nice walk up and downhill, though it’s not so nice if you’re wearing heels, pulling a big suitcase, carrying a heavy bag with a camera around your neck – in which case, I thoroughly recommend waiting for a bus.

The museum showcases Giger’s largest collection consisting of his paintings, sculptures, film and furniture designs dating from the early 1960s to the present day. The top floor of the museum, with stunning views of the town and surrounding landscape, also houses Giger’s private art collection which includes remarkable pieces from Andre Lassen, Burland Francois, Joe Coleman, Rudolf Stussi, Martin Swarz, Steven Leyba and others.

The gloomy, skeletal interior of the famous H.R. Giger Museum Bar is found in the adjoining wing of the museum complex and welcomes you into a new reality where biomechanical surrealism isn’t so surreal anymore… entering that place feels like walking into a masterpiece and living it for a moment.

Whilst this is all very cool to experience first hand, we are here for something a little more: The Paul Booth Art Exhibition. Paul’s selection of work, showcased for the first time in Switzerland, presents an evolution of his artwork over the past ten years – in paint, mixed media and tattoo. And what an astonishing collection that is.

“In my mid-teens, I spent countless hours obsessed with trying to understand and emulate Giger’s art. His books were one of my greatest teachers of the few I had. It has such unrelenting force. In my own way, I have always tried to do the same, as that to me is a crucial element to artistic expression.

“Giger is the reason that light and shade, dimension and texture have always been a major focus for me in my art – whether it be on canvas, skin, or otherwise. Now I find myself, 30 years later, honoured to be showing my art in Giger’s museum. I suppose I chose to treat this show somewhat as a timeline, because it represents a culmination in my life’s work thus far. While it closes a circle for me historically, it simultaneously marks the beginning of an entirely new era, as I can only evolve from this experience. I can’t even imagine where I will go from here and I think that is what has me most excited.”

I turned up with high expectations and every single one of them were exceeded. Even though I’ve seen most of the presented pieces somewhere online, it felt like I was seeing each for the very first time. I was under the same impression while starring at Giger’s designs. We all know both artists’ works, but do we, really? If this trip has taught me anything, it is that you cannot truly appreciate nor experience the art until you’re facing it in the flesh.

Today’s masterpieces are being slaughtered daily by pixels and the brutal flattening by our glossy screens. Unspoken emotions painted between the brush strokes are being lost somewhere in the electronic transition. No photography or video, even of the highest quality, will ever do justice to the colour, detail and texture that springs out of Booth’s work. Every line, shape and shade is carefully planned – his attention to detail and use of light and shadow is mind-blowing.  
Entering a room with his paintings hung on the walls is like becoming part of a weird, evil ecosystem where your mind is being absorbed by the art you’re staring at. It’s a controversial and beautifully disturbing collection with the power to change the way you interact with your surroundings, bringing back the eternal question – who am I and where am I going?

When asked about his art, Paul said: “I need to express myself. This is like a therapy to work out my frustrations.” He also mentioned that he doesn’t paint when he’s in a good mood.

The opening reception was a big success and turnout was pretty impressive. At one point, the gallery became so crowded that it actually took a while before you could get to see some pieces. It’s amazing to be in one room hearing so many different languages. Even though you might not understand the comments, you can still recognise the excitement and admiration in visitor’s voices.

I also had the great pleasure of meeting Paul’s mother, Paula, as well as his daughter, Tabitha, such lovely people. Tabby is working on a solo music project and no surprise, she also paints. Remember that name – Tabitha – because I’m certain that we will be hearing more about her soon.

I feel truly blessed to be able to witness Paul Booth – master of macabre and dark arts – meeting H.R. Giger – master of biomechanical art and fantastic surrealism – who wouldn’t! Both artists in the same room at the same time in the very heart of the Alien’s nest? This does not happen very often – in fact it doesn’t happen at all. It’s pretty incredible and I believe this is one of the most important art and tattoo related events of the past decade!

As a cherry on the top to make this day even more meaningful and unforgettable, we all watched as extraordinary pieces of art were being created in front of our eyes by four extremely talented artists: Paul Booth, Filip Lau, Titine Lau and Sabine Gaffron. After a few hours of their collaborative work (musically accompanied by Ajja S.F. Leu), ArtFusion Experiment’s baby was born. The work will remain in the museum for the entire duration of Paul’s exhibit until March 2012.

AFE is a charitable and tattoo-centric art movement co-founded by Paul, Titine and Filip. It brings together artists from around the world in order to create something unique by combining each individual’s personal style to come together in a single piece, thus allowing each artist to learn from the others at the same time. Completed works are then auctioned, with proceeds going to local charities that support the arts for disadvantaged children.


Text & Photography: Agnieszka Hairesis