Taken from Wicked magazine issue #2 Spring 2000. Please contact Wicked Magazine about the possibility of obtaining a backissue.

Genre auteur
Clive Barker channels the
visions of his mind onto paper and canvas

by Gina McIntyre

>Standing in Clive Barker's private painting studio is, in some ways, like entering the man's mind. Exotic characters leer and glower from the corners of his sub-conscious, splayed onto canvas yet unprepared for the eyes of outsiders. The amazing catalogue speaks with a language wholly of Barker's creation, and together, the images converge into a complete universe unlike any other - real or fantastic. One of genre's foremost visionaries, Barker spends hours daily with these visuals, piecing them together for one of a multitude of new projects: a four-part series of fantasy books, The Book of Hours, set in a world called Abarat. This latest endeavor is, perhaps, his most ambitious yet. Barker burst onto the horror radar in the mid-'80s with his chilling collections of short fiction The Books of Blood and the startling cinematic entry Hellraiser, adapted from his novella The Hellbound Heart. Since then, he has moved beyond traditional genre boundaries, creating a unique and compelling body of work that defies easy categorization. He is, by turns, horror writer, fantasy author, children's novelist, painter, filmmaker and playwright. In some ways, The Book of Hours will unite his various personas.

As consuming as the project might be, it is not the only object of his focus. Barker is in the thick of at least four different literary projects ranging from the fantasy quartet to a collection of erotic fiction. In between such solitary pursuits, he is serving as executive producer on "Love and Taboo" - an anthology of 15 short films by both prominent and unknown gay and lesbian filmmakers set to well-known works of music, a screen adaptation of his fable The Thief of Always, a six-hour miniseries for Showtime based on his novel Weaveworld and an entirely new horror film set in the 19th century American West.

Recently, Barker invited Wicked into his home to discuss the strategy behind perhaps the most revealing anthology of his work, a collection released at the end of last year aptly titled The Essential Clive Barker, and to offer his thoughts on the boundless possibilities of imagination.

WICKED: What spurred you to put together The Essential Clive Barker?

CLIVE BARKER: I felt it was time to make a book which could take people through the range of things I've done. When people think of Clive Barker, different segments of the readership think of different Clive Barkers. There's an audience that thinks of Clive Barker the horrormeister. There's a large audience of kids now who think of Clive Barker through The Thief of Always. And there's an audience that doesn't like the horror, doesn't like the kids' stuff and just thinks of me as a fantasist, the people who read Weaveworld and Imajica. They're all me, but sometimes, perhaps because of the way the books are sold and packaged, the various elements get divided from one another, the various Clive Barkers get divided from one another. The point of The Essential Clive Barker is to say, "Look, there is connective tissue between all this material-Clive Barker the fantasist, Clive Barker the horrormeister, Clive Barker the storyteller for kids is all the same imagination." If you look at the material with a certain kind of eye, there are threads between all this stuff. The Essential Clive Barker tends to sort of lay the trail of those threads and help perhaps people get a better grasp of what I do,

W: How did you determine what material to include in the book?

CB: With a lot of sweat and a lot of agony. I firstly elected perhaps twice as much as there is in there and whittled it down from those first choices. It wasn't easy. You have your favorite parts, and some of those are in the book and some I haven't been able to get into the book because of space. I wanted to serve the comprehension of the reader as much as anything else, and I didn't want any of the pieces to be too long. I wanted the book to be a pleasure to pick up and sift through and put down again. I feel the book is ideal to have beside the bath or to take on vacation or on a plane ride. It's a book to jump around in. It shouldn't be hard work. It should be something where whatever mood you're in you're going to find something which matches your mood. I was really trying to find a balance. So many of the choices are based upon trying to find that balance, trying to find material which reflects the scary stuff, the metaphysical stuff, some of the sexy stuff. I wanted to be sure that all the various things that I do would be reflected somewhere in the book.

W: Was it an intriguing process for you to organize your work into thematic categories?

CB: It was interesting. One of the things this process does is make you very aware of what you do and why you do it. I don't think it hurts for an artist to study his or her output that way. It made me quite conscious, not I think in a bad way, of the kinds of patterns that lie behind my work, how often characters are transfigured or transformed by their experiences, how often love is the energy which drives the narrative. I kind of surprised myself with that actually, at how often characters were driven, even if sometimes they were driven to do very bad things, by love and desire and erotic desire. It comes up over and over and over again. It was quite interesting to look at that and to sort of become aware of the themes that run through my work. I suppose you could call them obsessions. Despite the range of things I do, the different kinds of things I do, there are motive forces, there are energies, there are shapes to my narratives which come up over and over again.

W: How many projects are you working on right now?

CB: I don't have enough fingers. Through Seraphim [Barker's production company], I'm doing a lot of movie projects and a lot of TV stuff, The Thief of Always and Weaveworld and a new movie for New Line Cinema, which I'm going to direct probably [this] year or perhaps the year after. [I have] a slew of original projects which I'm either producing or have created in some way or other: paintings for this quartet of children's books, the Abarat quartet, a new novel about Hollywood. The first book of the Abarat quartet I deliver in about a month. The short fantasy novel about Hollywood I deliver at the end of April. And a gallery show next year, which I'm preparing for.

W: Why did you decide to write a book about Hollywood?

CB: I've been here almost 10 years, and I thought it was time to write about the things I've discovered about this place. I wanted to write about it in a way that wouldn't get me sued, but I also wanted to write about it in a way that was relatively honest. I don't like this town very much. I'm here because I believe in movies, and I think fantasy and horror have always had their place in movies and always will have. I want to be involved in making those kinds of pictures, and it's really hard to make those pictures any place but here. But having said that, there are a whole bunch of things about this city that I despise, about the working methods of the city, the lack of loyalty, the lack of honesty, the lack of joy. Every now and then, you need an outlet. You need to have a rant. It was time to have a rant. This story popped into my head, and I thought, "This is a great way to talk about Hollywood and to talk about it from the inside." It's going to be fun, and it's going to make me a lot of enemies. The feeling of it is closest to Sacrament, perhaps, in the sense that it hap-pens in the here and now and there's an element of dark, dark fantasy in it, but there are no other worlds. It doesn't go into other dimensions or anything like that. It's very much based in the moment. This time next year it should be hitting the shelves.

W: What about the film you're doing for New Line Cinema?

CB: That's a sort of secret project, but what I can say is that it's a period picture. It's set in 1866. I wanted to make a horror movie which was an American horror movie. I wanted to make a picture which used a created American mythology as its root, a supernatural mythology rather than going back to the old country, going back to vampires or the Frankenstein monster or werewolves or whatever. I wanted to create something fresh and American. The working title for the movie is The American Horror Movie and that's what it is. It'll be fun because it's a period movie, too, and when I write period stuff, I thoroughly enjoy it. I love getting involved in the research for period stuff. I think that will be great fun to do.

W: What are some of the artistic differences between writing, painting and filmmaking?

CB: The obvious thing is that filmmaking you do with an awful lot of other people. Painting and writing you rely upon your own discipline and enthusiasm for the project. Painting is a fairly obsessive business for me. I spend a lot of time on my own, as a writer and a painter. I actually enjoy that time. I enjoy the sense of personal exploration which goes on, psychic exploration which goes on when you paint. You're sort of investigating yourself when you paint, investigating your own tastes obviously for color and shape, but also because there's no intellectual procedure when I'm painting. I'm simply allowing the brush to sort of lead me. There's a sense in which it's very revealing. My mood is very clearly revealed when I'm painting. I know when I'm in a dark mood because the paintings are dark, the colors will change. Painting is very much involved with letting out what's inside.

Writing I'm doing as my business. It's the thing which puts bread on the table, so I have to be super disciplined about that. It's a very different process from the movie thing where everybody has their finger in the pie, all the time. Even as a writer/director/producer, at some point I'm going to hand this material over to an actor, to a designer, to a composer, all of whom are going to have a massive effect upon the material. Even if you are, let's say, David Cronenberg, who is a great model for me as a filmmaker because he is somebody who has created his own things and filmed them and created a style to go with that. Cronenberg's movies still, at some point, are shaped by the actors who are in them, by Howard Shore's wonderful scores, by the kind of design qualities that somebody brings to it. I don't have to share any of' those responsibilities with anybody when I paint or when I write. There's good and bad about that. On a bad day, you think, "God, I wish I had somebody with me right now to help me through this page of writing or through this bad passage of painting." On a good day, you think, "Nobody's fucking with me." I think every medium that you involve yourself with has its good and its bad points. I'm just grateful that there is an audience for what I do in all these media, and I get to play all these places.

W: Do you see yourself as a storyteller first, rather than an author or painter or filmmaker?

CB: Yes. Can I go even more primal than that? I consider myself an imaginer. My imaginings sometimes take the form of images and sometimes take the form of images and sometimes take the form cinematic stories or sometimes the form of literary stories. At heart, I'm somebody who brings something into being that was not there. Is suppose you could say that I've never painted a picture that does not have some kind of remote story attached to it. I've never had any taste for abstract painting, for instance. I don't really understand why one would paint an abstract painting. I do love story. I do love the energy that comes from story, which is making people -feel things, often things they don't even want to feel. I love trapping people in the process of a story into feeling something where they're perhaps blindsided by the feeling they're having. It's wonderful when readers will write to me and say, "I never thought I would be able to identify with a gay hero, but you got me to the point where it didn't matter." 'That's great to hear. It's wonderful when adults say, "I didn't think I could get into a kid's book, but I ended up crying at the end of The Thief of Always." That's wonderful when that happens. I'm interested in doing something which stirs them up at a deeper level.

Now, if along the way I can give people the pleasure of being scared-because it is a pleasure to be scared if you do it right-or I can give people some amazing landscape that they've never seen before, that's great, but it's got to be in service of something else. The idea of getting up in the morning and saying, "I'm going to scare the hell out of somebody" or "I'm going to create some wonderland and not connect it with some transformative story, something which is going to take the reader and change them a little bit," doesn't interest me. I need to have the energy, the motive force of a story which is going change people.

W: Do you feel that people still associate you only with horror despite your accomplishments in other fields?

CB: I think I've been doing the other thing long enough now that people have sort of accepted it- "OK, Barker just does a bunch of things and certainly one of the things he does is write horror stories and make horror movies, but it's just one of the things he does." My position has always been that horror wasn't something I was escaping in the sense of feeling condescending towards it, just that I'd contributed what I thought I could contribute. I'd done six books of short stories, a couple of novels, a bunch of movies. That was what I felt I could do. Now I've come back to the idea that I want to make more horror movies. I don't think that horror fiction, in the sense of the Books of Blood, is something that I would particularly want to return to. I feel like I did a lot at the beginning of my career in that area. I enjoyed it immensely and got great satisfaction and still get great satisfaction out of those stories. But I feel as though the last thing I want to do for myself and for my readership is repeat myself.

W: Do you think more people are beginning to realize the power of imagination so intrinsic to horror and dark fantasy?

CB: I wish I could think so. I think the audience has always known. The problem isn't the audience. The audience goes and sees my movies or Tim Burton's movies or Cronenberg's movies. Do the critics get that there is something valuable in this material more than they did a few years ago? I don't think so. It was very interesting to me when we did Gods and Monsters [which Barker executive produced] that the newspapers who reviewed the movie were saying, "Wasn't it a shame that James Whale was not given the kind of support as an artist that he should have been given?" Those same critics who will say that out of one side of their mouths are scorning a new generation of James Whales. In other words, it's fine to be dead and doing this stuff, but don't you dare be alive and successful.

W: Do you foresee that changing?

CB: Clearly, the reviews for Sleepy Hollow were very good reviews by and large. If it had not been from a classic American narrative, would those reviews have been as good? I don't think they would. I think reviewers are very cautious where the product of the imagination is concerned. They're intimidated by it very often. It takes years for reviewers to catch up with what the popular audience already knows, which is that this material contains valuable truths. It took the reviewers almost a generation to catch up with Star Wars. The first reviews for that movie were horribly condescending. Later on, of course, Time magazine realizes that Joseph Campbell had something to do with it, so it's all kind of perfectly legitimized.
I think reviewers are much more comfortable with reality-based material. They can say, "This movie does resemble what the second World War was like." But what the hell are you going to say about a movie that has fantastical elements in it? You have to sort of measure it against the value of your own dreams and no critic is going to dare to do that because by and large they're cowards - otherwise they wouldn't be critics.

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