Clive Barker is the Lord of Illusions. Just when you think you've got a handle on him, he shape-shifts. Infamous in the '80s for hard-core horror films and fiction such as the Hellraiserand Books of Bloodseries, Barker turned mid-stream to produce kinder, gentler fantasy and fiction. He launched a foray into young-adult fiction with The Thief of Always and continued it with the Abarat series. And throughout his career, he's reanimated each and every one of his dangerous visions on canvas.
Barker will discuss and sign his latest offering, Visions of Heaven and Hell, on Thursday, October 20, at the Tattered Cover Cherry Creek. The opulent art tome is at once disturbing and seductive. Nightmarish beasts, mad magicians, erotic demons and landscapes of death and desolation peer out from hallucinogenic multi-hued prints, drawing you in while daring you to enter their worlds.
In between making monsters and creating alternate universes, the god of gore shifted again, into a devoted family man, when his art helped him find -- or, perhaps, conjure -- his partner, photographer David E. Armstrong.
"We met outside a bar one Sunday afternoon," says Barker. "It would have been a commonplace meeting except for this: Two weeks previous, I had painted a picture of a character from Imajica, who is a black character called Pie 'oh' pah. I didn't make the connection until about six months later, when everybody who would pick up the Imajica game would say, 'Oh, so David is the person you used as the inspiration for Pie 'oh' pah.' And I said no, and I looked at the image, and I looked at David, and it was uncanny. So it was a very nice feeling of this somehow being right. It felt right ten years ago; it feels even more right now. It's wonderful."
Art plays a significant role in Armstrong and Barker's relationship, and they often collaborate and exhibit as a pair. Another strong element is provided by Armstrong's daughter, Nicole, whom they parent together.
"It's certainly true that I would not have attempted to write Candy Quackenbush, the heroine of Abarat, without having a daughter," says Barker. "And knowing Nicole and seeing her grow and face the complexities of puberty was a very important thing for me. Firstly, being her dad and helping her as best as I could, and secondly, being an author and seeing the pain and the confusion and the sudden bliss and sudden joys. I was able to enhance the portrait of Candy hugely, I think, because I had a daughter."
Ghoulie groupies will be relieved to find that their infernal majesty is not all sweetness and light these days, however. Barker claims that taking time out for fantasy and family allowed him to recoup his taste for blood. Now working on a series of horror films for Showtime, he's also penning The Scarlet Gospels, a followup to Books of Blood. One story will feature an apocalyptic showdown between detective Harry D'Amour and the character formerly known as Pinhead (Barker vows to finally anoint the uber-pierced one with a name).
"When I said goodbye to the persona that wrote the really hard horror of my early thirties, I thought that person had actually disappeared; I was wrong," he chuckles. "I have discovered, coming back and doing The Scarlet Gospels, that my taste for very extreme scares and very extreme grossouts absolutely has not disappeared. It's intact; it had just gone into hiding for a while. It's sort of fun right now, because I'm doing paintings for Abarat 3, I'm doing paintings for the erotic exhibition in L.A., and I'm writing horror during the day. So all three portions of my instincts -- the horrific, the sexual, the fantastic -- are being satisfied. I probably work a twelve- to thirteen-hour day, and I get to do a little of all three things. So fuck therapy: Pick up a paintbrush!"