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Grof on Giger: The Transpersonal Nature of Art, Inspiration, and Creativity (Part 1 of 2)

by Karey Pohn, AHBI Board Member
Edited and posted by Alysson TrofferThe Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at) ahbi.org

[Editor's Note: This interview of Stan Grof was originally published in the May 2010 issue of The Inner Door. For background information about Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger and his style of art, see Stan Grof’s article.]


This two-part interview contains the following posts:

Part 1
Part 2

PART 1

I recently interviewed Stan Grof about his upcoming book on Giger, titled H.R. Giger and the Soul of the Twentieth Century, which is being published in Russia and in the United States. We discussed the book itself, how Giger’s work has influenced Stan, Giger’s own creative process, as well as the creative process in general and how holotropic states seem to be at the heart of it.

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Karey: Could you speak to how your book is different from all the other books on Giger?

Stan: The book exists in a larger context. What I am trying to show is how the larger cartography of the psyche—which includes the transpersonal, the perinatal, and the biographical—actually expands the possibilities for interpreting art. Starting with Freud’s analysis of Leonardo da Vinci’s work, followed by his analysis of the work of Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, and Mary Bonaparte, among others, the tendency is to focus solely on the artist’s personal biographical material.

Although the version of Giger’s book that will be published in the United States is narrower in scope, I focus on Giger and show how we cannot understand his art without bringing in the perinatal, the transpersonal, and the archetypal. Because I’m illustrating what I’m writing about, the book contains the most powerful selection of Giger’s paintings because the perinatal images in his art have the strongest emotional charge.

The selection of images is more powerful than in other books on him, which cover the whole spectrum and don’t narrow the images to the perinatal. Whereas others are more peripheral, they don’t have such an emotional impact. In the book, I also use the concept of COEX systems—showing how many events in his life represent COEX systems that are anchored in the perinatal. So there’s also an interesting selection of anecdotes from his life. Most of the books that I have read about Giger include a selection of his paintings with biographical vignettes or cameos and then also various statements that other people, including people like Gaby Falk, all the way to Timothy Leary, have said about Giger.

(See H.R. Giger's "Biomechanoid II" at right.)

Karey: So Giger is opening up a visionary window on the fullness of who we are: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Stan: Yes, exactly. I have great admiration for Giger’s ability to portray the darkest recesses of the human mind, out of which come many of the world’s problems. Another aspect of the book, which is quite unique, speaks to this. Whereas many other critics have the tendency to show his art as deviant, bizarre, and kind of weird, I see him as this great visionary who reveals what most people in our culture don’t want to look at.

We have this very, very meek image of the human psyche, which begins after birth. We discuss the traumas of nursing and then toilet training, things of that kind. Then, we’re surprised when suddenly there is Nazism and the Holocaust, or communism and the Gulag Archipelago, or the genocide in Rwanda or Yugoslavia or other places. There’s just no way that postnatal biography can explain even the extreme forms of individual psychopathology, much less the impetus behind a destructive movement such as Nazism that can affect millions of people around the world.

Karey: Is there anything you’d like to share about your relationship with Giger and his work that has deepened your own work, or influenced you?

Stan: We met many, many years ago when Christina and I went to visit him. Giger lives in a place called Oerlikon, which is in the outskirts of Zurich. Our initial contact was somewhat hesitant because he didn’t know who we were, and he had some really bad experiences with journalists who visited him and then wrote very nasty things about him. But I gave him a copy of my book LSD Psychotherapy to establish a rapport between us.

Our relationship then deepened very much when Carmen, his partner and now wife, came into our training. She became a trained facilitator and was very instrumental in deepening our relationship. We had a number of personal visits, both at their house in Oerlikon and also in Gruyère where he bought a whole wing of the Gruyère castle and created this fantastic museum. He actually allowed us to do two of our training modules there, surrounded by this fantastic art.

We also took him to visit Albert Hoffman several times. Those visits with Giger and Hoffman were the most interesting experiences because they represented the two extremes of where psychedelics can take a person: Hans Rudi (H.R.) is the absolute master of those darkest corners of the psyche that one can experience, and Albert is the one with a more beatific and brilliant vision. The first time we brought him to Giger, Albert was in his late 90s, and his primary interests were flowers and butterflies, and he was fascinated by the incredible chemistry of the colors of flowers and the colors of the wings of butterflies. Sitting together, it was really interesting to see how each of them was inspired by a very different aspect of where psychedelics can take you.

For me, Giger has been an extremely important influence. I’ve been using his art very much because nobody else has been able to capture some of the challenges of the perinatal area like he has. (See H.R. Giger's "Biomechanoid I" at left.)

Karey: It is almost as if you commissioned him to create these images; yet, you both discovered this realm independent of each other. It must have been great to have such an amazing artist independently verify, if you will, the second and third perinatal matrices of the cartography in such powerful ways, especially given the prominence of Saturn and Pluto in your astrology chart, with those archetypal energies being the juiciest part of the journey for you.

Stan: Exactly. It was a revelation for me. I first encountered his work in Necronomicon, which was a large format, high-quality paperback. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was absolutely amazing. Now, I have a good understanding of him, not only because we have spent a lot of personal time together, but I had the chance to interview him for many, many hours for the book; and during that time, I was able to find out not only about his life but also about how he works.

It’s extraordinary. Some of his large paintings cover one wall in his house, and these amazing compositions are frequently arranged symmetrically. I found out that particularly when he is working with an airbrush, he has absolutely no idea what he is painting. He just begins in the left upper corner and aims the airbrush at the canvas. Then, as he told me, something just comes through, and he is himself surprised by what emerges.

In discussing Giger’s genius, I quote what Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885) about his own state of consciousness while creating:

If one had the smallest vestige of superstition left in one, it would hardly be possible to set aside the idea that one is mere incarnation, mouthpiece, or medium of an almighty power. The idea of revelation, in the sense that something, which profoundly convulses and shatters one, become suddenly visible and audible with indescribable certainty and accuracy, describes the simple fact. One hears—one does not seek; one takes—one does not ask who gives; a thought suddenly flashes up like lightning, it comes with necessity, without faltering—I never had any choice in the matter.

In essence, something grabs you and comes through, and you basically become a channel for it. You’re not really the creator of it. You’re a mediator. Hans Rudi certainly falls into that category.



Karey Pohn, J.D., Ph.D., is an AHBI Board Member and chair of the Community Support committee. She also serves on the Membership, Publicity, and Executive committees.

 

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