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“It may be too simplistic to say that Li Tobler haunts Giger still… but there is no doubting that the simultaneous agony and joy of life with Li Tobler established the dynamic of fear and transcendence which is present in many of his paintings.” Li Tobler was the melancholic tragic muse of H.R. Giger. Her face haunts Giger’s depictions of ethereal women in many of his paintings, often peering forth from the torment of afterlife to a world beyond anything we’ve known. Shrouded in mystery, Li Tobler is Giger’s most familiar face, yet most unknown.
“I want my life to be short and intense.” Li Tobler was 27 years old when she committed suicide. Born in Switzerland in 1948, she became a Swedish actress and model before meeting surrealist artist H. R. Giger in 1966. At that time, Tobler was living in a very small and dirty apartment with a boyfriend, actor Paul Weibel, who was a friend of Giger. Giger, having only graduated from the School of Arts and working as a designer, asked to move in with them–– which they promptly accepted. The three of them lived in terrible economic conditions but shared the apartment for many months. After Weibel left abroad for professional reasons, the friendship between Tobler and Giger gradually developed into a romance. In 1967, the couple moved to the attic of a condemned building nearby. After it was torn down in 1968, they moved to another condemned house.
Upon graduation from K. Rellstab’s drama school, Tobler started working in a theater outside of Zürich. Due to her ongoing financial problems, she was obliged to move in with a friend, though Giger was also living in a flat nearby. A few months later, a small inheritance left to Giger by an uncle allowed the couple to buy a house in the suburbs and live together. According to sources, there was promiscuity and drug abuse by both partners. On one occasion, Tobler failed to appear at the house and Giger, terrified, started frantically looking for her on highways. Eventually, he received a phone call from Tobler, three days later. Giger, who was always madly in love with her, was unable to help in her personal agonies and lack of control in her life, given his own psychological problems and agony over his artwork.
“She had an enormous vitality and a great appetite for life.” – H.R. Giger
Physically and mentally exhausted after 130 performances of the play My Woman in 1972, the hectic schedule that required extensive tour around the country, and her promiscuous erotic life, Tobler decided to take a leave of absence from acting and Giger. In 1974, she left him and moved to San Francisco with a new American boyfriend. However, 30 days later, she returned to Zürich, claiming to be disappointed over the United States and resumed her relationship with the painter. After this incident, Tobler started becoming heavily depressed. In sharp contrast to Giger, who was undergoing one of his most energetic artistic periods, Tobler was gradually dissolving in depression and apathy. In 1975, she shot herself in the head.
Giger was accused by some people as negatively influencing Tobler, who was regularly dealing with depression, with the bleakness and morbidity of his work. Sources claim that when Giger revealed his first painting of Tobler, the “I am Li”, she was furious. Tobler walked into Giger’s studio, wielding a knife, and sliced an “X” through the Li painting. Bob Guccione, founder of Penthouse and OMNI magazine was enamored with the painting and asked Giger to repair it for the cover of a 1978 issue of OMNI. However, Giger was devastated by Tobler’s death and felt an emptiness in his life, which was reflected by the even darker tone his work assumed from that point.
After Tobler took her own life, rumors were created that Giger kept her skeleton in his house. Although this rumor ultimately turned out to be false, Giger did have a momentum of her death in his house. Bill Malone, who had worked with Giger on concepts for films that were never made, noticed there were little holes in one of the canvases while at Giger’s house. Bill said to him “Giger, someone damaged your painting here.” Giger’s response was “No, that’s where my girlfriend blew her brains out.”
Heartbreaking, poetic, and morose, Li Tobler finds herself immortalized in Giger’s art for eternity. As an inspiration to one of the greatest science fiction artists alive, Tobler is Giger’s art, and Giger’s art is Tobler.
The Mind's Eye: The Art of Omni by Jeremy Frommer and Rick Schwartz
The Mind's Eye: The Art of Omni is the very first publication to celebrate in stunning detail the exceptional science fiction imagery of this era in an oversized format. The Mind's Eye contains 185 images from contributing Omni artists including John Berkey, Chris Moore, H.R. Giger, Rafal Olbinski, Rallé, Tsuneo Sanda, Hajime Sorayama, Robert McCall, and Colin Hay among many more, along with quotes from artists, contributors, writers, and critics.