From his origins as a visual artist and playwright through his work as an author and film director, it is difficult for a society that desperately needs to identify things succinctly to know how to describe Clive Barker. When asked once how he would describe himself if he needed to clarify his craft for a business card, Clive fulfilled that cultural need with the very simple and true title of “Imaginer.” From William Blake to Jean Cocteau, our greatest artist-imaginers have been less easily understood in their time as they are when we can examine them through the lens of history which allows us to see their works as a whole, unique, and special entity.
The artworks of Clive Barker are not a writer’s hobby or afterthought; quite the opposite. Clive’s stories primarily begin as visual works; it is only as he is creating and contemplating the scene unfolding on his canvas that the story reveals itself. When I first learned that this man who I knew best as a writer of novels kept a sumi brush next to his bed not to take text notes of his dreams, but visual ones, I was surprised. Wouldn’t a master craftsman of lyrical sentences toss fragments of them around effortlessly as the most clear shorthand of his vision? It wasn’t until I deeply explored the world of Clive Barker that it made sense to me: in the face of the vastness of whatever psychic wilderness he is experiencing, language ultimately fails. It is only in the shorthand of symbol that, sigil-like, he can leave himself a landmark to return to explore that imaginary landscape.
Finding a term to describe the paintings of Clive Barker is as exciting- and challenging- as defining an entirely new movement. His otherworldly imagery and aggressive execution suggest origins of Symbolism and Expressionism, and the influence of Jean Cocteau and the Grand-Guignol are understandable roots given Clive’s theater background. With works moving from primal tribalism to intense sophistication and macabre whimsy, Barker is equal parts hypsersexual Goya and sinister Dr. Seuss; there simply is no single movement whose title encapsulates the modernism and traditionalism that meets and congeals in the unique creativity of Clive Barker.