Working In The Midnight Hours...

The Twentieth Revelatory Interview
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 17 December 2007

In a year in which both Hellraiser and Weaveworld celebrated Twentieth Anniversaries, we're delighted to notch up our own small 'twentieth' milestone, with the interview with Clive below being our twentieth for the site here at Revelations...
The three of us caught up earlier this month to talk through some of the artwork in his current exhibition in Los Angeles and others planned for exhibition in Chicago next month. We kicked off, though, by talking about a common passion - William Blake - and the recent discovery of eight previously unknown colour works by him along with the added bonus of 13 new lines of his verse, these currently being exhibited in London at Tate Britain...

Clive : "The Blake news is great, absolutely great. It makes you wonder, when 250 years have passed and stuff turns up like this, it makes you wonder how much more stuff there is that we haven't seen still in private hands."

Revelations : "It's fascinating to think it's been passed down safely through private hands all those years and avoided all the scholars."

Clive : "Yes, it's good and it's bad. It's good in the sense of, in terms of that it's nice to have them back. But it makes you worry about the pieces which maybe haven't been recognised, you know, haven't been understood. It's not as though the pictures scream out comprehensibility. You know, I always worry about that with our man Blake, whether there's a clue out there we haven't had yet, another piece of the mystery, but it's certainly marvellous to have these things back in the 'right' hands."

Revelations : "We thought we might talk a little about the new artwork you're exhibiting at the moment in Los Angeles and will shortly be showing in Chicago?"

Clive : "I haven't yet done a video walkaround at Bert Green for you because when I thought I could do it last Thursday the show was overwhelmed (which I was delighted with!) You know, last time I did a video walkaround, there was nobody there! I haven't been back yet: the event which we were going to do it at last week just had huge numbers of people...
"I guess we sold a huge number of the paintings - 49 of the 75 pictures, which is just amazing. I will try my very best to get a walkaround done this week - we'll find time, I'm sure. Maybe we can start with the paintings you've got here?"

Clive Barker - Midnight

Revelations : "Absolutely - "

Clive : "The first of them is one that two good friends of mine purchased... I'm delighted you bought that painting!"

Revelations : "Oh, so are we - "

Clive : "Oh man!"

Revelations : "We saw some photos of the gala opening night, with a lot of people gathered around Midnight. We looked at it for weeks and weeks and thought, 'Should we, shouldn't we?' but we had to!"

Clive : "Oh, I'm so glad you did. It got a lot of attention and there were a couple of people who got incredibly close to buying it - and I'm glad they didn't! "I'm so glad you saw the Blakean echoes in the colour and I think you're going to love it. You're going to have an interesting time choosing a frame - it's a big son of a bitch - I mean 60 by 48 plus a frame, man! It'll have a nice presence; it's a benign presence."

Revelations : "It'll certainly test our Victorian walls - "

Clive : "Yeah, but that's what Victorian walls were made for - they built that stuff strong."

Revelations : "Can you outline the story behind the painting?"

Clive : "Yes, it is the title-page painting for book three - it's one of the few paintings I've ever painted with a really direct position in mind - it's an invitation into Absolute Night. Hence the fact that in the flames of his torch you'll see skulls and creatures, little hints little of what Night contains. You saw the use of the colours of Blake in the picture... You said the Blakean influence was not something you were unaware of; you saw that straight away. I mean, there's something in his pose, something in the way his body is turned, I think, speaks of God, speaks of Blake; he is the embodiment of Midnight - I don't mean literally, I mean this will be the title page of the third book. I wanted something to announce: alright, we're going into another gear, we're going up a gear, you know? And he is somebody, almost like the guy at a circus, the ringmaster as it were, saying, 'OK, get ready, here it comes, now you're getting into the really dark stuff.' And at the same time I wanted him to have an Abaratian strangeness to him; in his tail, with the faces in the light coming up from the branch he's holding. So that's Midnight."

Revelations : "Fabulous - we can't wait to see it properly... "

Clive Barker - The Comets

Clive : "You'll love it!"

Clive : "Next over, I've got The Comets and I'm going to be a bit coy here in a few places - we're coming to a place where I have to be a bit coy because the scale of the narrative has got a higher... how do I put this..? There are certain empowerments which we don't yet comprehend - Mater Motley's empowerment, for example. I don't want Abarat to be just about magic, I want it to be about something more than that. This picture is a clue, it's a picture of something that could be, will be in the narrative..."

Revelations : "It's intriguing that you're happy to put these images 'out there' ahead of the books being published."

Clive : "Well, part of it is, I don't think it's something that people will guess at. The way things connect up is very unlike anything I've touched on before, very different to the kind of territory that I've been in. So the question about showing them is that the different pictures have different playgrounds. As to painting them 'early', it's partly because I couldn't keep my hands off them, I guess!
"I've often ended up the in the corner just setting down my narrative of this world! I've been furiously writing away and painting and developing this book and Book Four as well. The hope is that Abarat's mythology is large enough in the sense that there's much more than I can write about or paint.
Clive Barker - The Stitchlings Howl "The books are going to have pictures that are frightening, again embodiments of things still to come. The next picture is actually one of the grimmest pictures in the book and I just wanted to show total heartlessness, a total lack of humanity. I wanted to say: this is what it would be like to be surrounded by stitchlings, to have the whole canvas - from top to bottom of the painting - completely grey and brown pigments, no release, no compassion, no morality. Because if you think of the great heartless war machines of the Twentieth Century - the Nazi war machine will obviously be uppermost/topmost of mind, that would be what the stitchlings are about - yes, they are these things, these bits of cloth and flesh, filled with mud; so were the Nazi war machines. They are relentless, terrible things and I've actually painted a couple of pictures of them which may not even make the cut of the book because they're vicious... "

Clive Barker - She Waits

Revelations : "She Waits..."

Clive : "Yes, however... I have not got a clue what she's waiting for - who is that woman..?"

Revelations : "Yet you can be definitive on a title, which isn't always the case."

Clive : "Yeah I know! She Waits, but I don't have a bloody clue what she's waiting for!"

Revelations : "But you've got Bert Green with the exhibition, pressing you for a title - "

Clive : "Well, actually you know I generally either have a title by the time I hand them over to take to the gallery or I don't. If Bert's saying, 'What's the title? What's the title?' I tend to say, 'Untitled'!
"The Tribe... they are gay creatures of the Abarat and that's all I know... they are gay and they may or not be part of the future narrative and mythology... and I guess I feel like, now, I have hugely more in my head - "

Clive Barker - The Tribe Rests

Revelations : "- than you can even get in five books!"

Clive : "Yeah! There might need to be a guide, an idea which I think is marvellous, a little bit like the Nightbreed Chronicles, you know, where there's a little description, comment alongside each photograph? I love the idea of doing some kind of book that would reference the world in the five books. "Next, The Tower and Burning Man both reference the apocalypse - or what's the plural of apocalypse?"

Revelations : "Apocalypses?"

Clive : "Apocali!"

Revelations : "That's probably correct, but sounds horribly wrong. Can you have more than one apocalypse..?"

Clive : "Well, whatever it is, you know there are these massive world-shaking events that are about to unfold with the shaking of violence, the shaking in my mind and really I have just been warming up... The Tower and a large triptych not quite as big as the picture of the islands which I have been painting for a long while depict part of that...
"I want to be as graphic as I can, to have intensity in the graphics. I am quite aware of the younger age of the readers and I look at Burning Man and really I don't know how comfortable I am with the image of that in an Abarat book, and right now it's pretty much on the limits... "

Clive Barker - Burning Man Clive Barker - Tower (Chicago 2008 exhibition)

Revelations : "That's interesting, both here and with the more intense Stitchling paintings you're expressing thoughts and emotions on canvas that might simply be back-story to inform you as you shape the narrative..."

Clive : "I am very aware of my responsibilities as a writer and, having been in contact with books for a young readership, know gradually these books can get tougher - like The Hobbit which started out as a book for younger readers and turned into a large, epic fantasy.'"

Revelations : "In fact we just re-watched an old South Bank Show on Tolkien and they noted there that The Lord of the Rings also graduates from a very light-hearted, jovial style in the first book, with Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday and the depictions of life in Hobbiton, through a deepening style so that by the time of the third book, it's written in a much more complex, almost Biblical, language. Again, a journey that happened within a single book."

Clive : "Yeah, that is very interesting, the shift across the single narrative... Abarat addresses conflict and as it goes on its way, I've been thinking about war, talking to my friend Justin, getting Justin's visions of war. He's a powerful storyteller. We met for a couple of hours last week and had a marvellous time where he was talking to me of his experiences in Iraq, laughing one moment and crying the next, it was tremendous."

Revelations : "You've always known that there was a coming Apocalypse in Abarat, but I guess being close to real-life war experience, is there a question of whether it's informing or infecting?"

Clive : "That's absolutely right. I wish I'd said that, yes, that's exactly right.
"And there's a point at which... I remember Spielberg saying, when he made Schindler's List and he was asked about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade when he had Indiana meet Hitler as a joke, he said he would never do that again, because the Nazis were an evil people. Now I'm not making a direct parallel, I don't have any direct characters in Abarat, but, you know... all war is war. I mean I have what can only be called genocide in Abarat, because that's what it is, and the fact that it's led by the kind of people that persecute people who are blue or green, as opposed to black and yellow or that they go to a different church or they practice love in a different way, is by the by. It's the same old story throughout history of how differences in others have always been treated and I've always been - I won't say always but I've very often - been pro-'others', you know Nightbreed being an example, where people identify with the monsters. I hear it at signings and it's moving. In fact I just did a weekend with a man from Florida who flew over to meet with me - he knew all the characters, it was awesome!
"These images of The Tower and Burning Man are there to show some of the horror..."

Revelations : "It sounds like you're not getting much light relief away from Scarlet Gospels by doing Abarat 3?"

Clive : "Well, I certainly have a lot on my mind, I'm dealing with some dark times here. I don't think the writing can avoid that issue, even though I'm painting and writing a book that's for all ages, I don't think you can avoid the issues - maybe I could avoid it but I don't want to because that wouldn't feel right. Your point is well made, I am not writing Tootsie here!'"

Clive Barker - The Burning of the Carrion Palace (sketch 141)

Revelations : "Not yet! Give you time!"

Clive : "Don't hold your breath..!
"Now, it's interesting that you choose this one because it's one of the very, very few examples of sketches I made which went, pretty much as is, on to the canvas, which is probably why you've chosen it? "It's the burning of the Carrion Palace which is a double page in Book 2, it's very orange with a lot of paint thrown at the canvas! And that sketch made it almost intact, I like the shapes... It's a double-page spread... this is it - page 310... Actually, it's very close! Even the number of long towers or minarets is pretty much correct and pretty much in the same place."

Revelations : "We chose to include some thoughts on it in this conversation as a taster for the collection we've been working on of some of these Abarat 'in progress' sketches that will be showcased in the soon-to-be launched Young Adult section of Revelations..."

Clive : "Perfect! I'm really looking forward to that!"

Revelations : "Just to close off on the artwork - you've assembled pieces for two reasonably sized exhibitions back-to-back in LA and Chicago - do you put yourself in the hands of people like Bert and Aron in terms of selections or do you encourage them towards certain paintings or sketches?"

Clive : "No I don't do that. I've actually done three, because New York is also selected. I have no knowledge whatsoever of which pieces will go well together but Bert has identified good people in Chicago and in New York and I like them. I'm delighted that there are some people who have several of my pictures in rooms that are dominated by them, for example there's a fellow here in America who sent me photographs of his room and he has double-digit numbers of my paintings, back from the earliest days of when I was exhibiting at Bess Cutler in New York, so collected over a long period. I think the more that people can get to see these in exhibitions and have the pleasure of them in their homes, the better..."

Revelations : "A quick word on other areas... In the last six months you've been almost constantly working on promotional events - we've tracked around fifty interviews and media briefings for Jericho, Midnight Meat Train and Mister B. Gone, to say nothing of a signing tour and opening a brand new art exhibition - you must be completely shattered."

Clive : "Yeah - I won't lie about that, I'm incredibly tired. I'm wiped, more wiped probably than I've ever been in my life; it's been a long, long trek starting back in July with the Comic Book Convention."

Clive at ComicCon, July 2007

Revelations : "You've been on the go ever since then, with trips to Madrid, the UK and a couple of trips around the US.."

Clive : "Yes I have, with no time to do the thing which refuels me which is making work, making art, so I'm glad to be actually writing Abarat Three, which is what I'm doing right now... Everything's been going beautifully, and you can let everyone know that I am halfway through the penultimate draft."

Revelations : "You always told us you were going to surprise everyone with how quickly this was going to be ready!"

Clive : "Yeah well, I did make that draft early in the year..."

Revelations : "Ah - your secret draft that we weren't allowed to tell anyone about!"

Clive : "Exactly! It's really just that the Abarat books are demanding a lot more of my time and commitment, they've been jumping ahead of line and I love that, I think it's great."

Revelations : "Thanks Clive - back to work..?"

Clive : "Absolutely. A month ago I wasn't tired for the right reasons - now I'm tired at the end of the day as a result of painting and writing, which is the right reason..."

Abarat Book Three
Abarat Books Four and Five
Upcoming Art Exhibitions

previous home search contact Interviews next