"I just received a copy of the new Imaginer. I think the Archive has created a book that sets the bar a hair's breadth higher than the previous volume, which was already unparalleled. Thank you for your commitment and vision. The book, like the project, is extraordinary."Last week we sat down for 90 minute chat about Imaginer 5, Clive's current projects, world politics, chicken farmers and fishers of souls. Among the projects we discussed were Abarat, The Third Book of the Art and a new novel (previously titled Scarebaby). We also talked about our upcoming Making of Hellraiser book, due in 2018.
Revelations : "Hey, Clive, how are you?"
Clive : "I'm better than I was... it's taken three years for me to get better but I am getting
"I can't get to people right now but I don't want them to think I've gone anywhere... I want to be able to talk at conventions and things like that and not have people worry about me, because these are nice folks and they do worry about me.
"The thing I would love to let everyone know is that I'm working hard and that, even though I'm not as public as I was, it means zero in terms of my commitment to the work which remains as strong - as you both know - as it ever was. Physically I'm not at present able to paint the big paintings but I'll get there, and in the meantime, yeah, there's literary stuff going on.
"Abarat 4 is almost finished and Abarat 5 has been plotted. But..., because there are so many illustrations in the books and they're all painted, it takes a hell of a long time to produce those books. They won't be out 'soon.' There's a lot of publishing work to do - you know, which picture goes where and we've got design issues and so on..."
Clive : "Book 5, I've got it in front of me... Let me start with a, 'Just fucking amazing, guys!'"
Revelations : "It's looking all right, isn't it?"
Clive : "No, it's way more than 'all right' - don't be so British! It is magnificent, my friends, it is magnificent."
Revelations : "We're having real fun working with the artwork but presenting it, ordering the canvases, deciding what to show in close-up, they're hard decisions..."
Clive : "Yeah, yeah, it is hard but you've pulled it off one hundred per cent, one hundred
fucking per cent. God, I'm seldom lost for words but I am sort of lost for words! It's gorgeous. It's gorgeous - it's
the best so far.
"I know I said at the beginning of Imaginer, 'This is probably the best Clive Barker between covers' or whatever it was, you know, about Tom's first book? I feel I need to re-state, because of this, a whole new level of achievement by you guys.
"And I very much feel - I feel so passionate about it - that I want to make sure the world knows that this is not the Imaginer you think you knew! This is, guys, excuse this, it sounds un-humble but it's not un-humble: it's about the achievement I guess we've all achieved, but this is one of the most beautiful art books I've ever seen."
Revelations : "I think the gatefolds move the series forward immensely."
Clive : "Oh, I agree - I can't get my mind around what that will look like."
Revelations : "And we haven't seen it in the flesh yet either but in terms of the design, we wanted the triptychs in but it would have been a compromise to have them going over two pages, slightly smaller and with stuff disappearing into the fold and actually the printers came up with a really neat solution as to how to get them in without altering the structure of the books. Just as a physical thing - the books are so big and heavy already, now you fold something out that's going to be, what? 30-inches of colour?"
Clive : "It's going to be huge, you're going to fall into it! It's going to be like Weaveworld..."
Revelations : "What we were really excited about was being able to put a close-up immediately on the reverse so you get this spread and expanse - and then you turn over and it's the physical equivalent of leaning closer to get right up to it."
Clive : "Oh right! Yes, it's what you can't do at the National Gallery - except the Holbein with the skull - you know, The Ambassadors and if you look at it from the side -"
Revelations : "Where they encourage you to go round and - it is roped off, but they tell you to go close and that is a spooky painting because you see it from a completely different perspective."
Clive : "Death is with you, right?
"And there's so much detail in the close-ups here that even though, let's say like - all the islands of the Abarat, for instance, it's going to be huge, but because the painting is so huge, the next two pages which are detail, are fully justified because when I was looking at those two pages I realised there were things there I don't remember, like the shooting stars with red circles around them, and it is quite remarkable to see something that I put on canvas a very long time ago renewed, refreshed, revisited, re-invented.
Revelations : "And the three of us have worked quite hard on the ordering of this: you've got to produce the light and shade, but occasionally, you want to keep up the intensity of two or three paintings before you let them go again."
Clive : "Yes, got you. One of the interesting things I didn't realise until this conversation is there's nothing living in that painting - there are no animals, I suppose you could say possibly the waves are making some sound? The trees are dead, there's no real sense of motion in the cloud - it's a dead world, isn't it?"
Revelations : "Except that you wouldn't have said that from the colour."
Clive : "No, I know. Then, if we go on two pages, you have that triptych which I should have suggested on the title should be 'what kind of drugs is he taking?'! The answer is nothing - cough syrup! It looks like something somebody high on something they should never have touched is unleashing - doesn't it look that way to you? I mean there's a great god in the middle who is almost a white equivalent of Baphomet. It's a war, isn't it?"
Revelations : "It's an extraordinary piece of work."
Clive : "It's - yeah, firstly thank you - I have no idea where it came from or, indeed, where it's going! I mean there are demons clearly on the left in black, with white eyes and then on the right you have the guy with the lance, right? Driving back what appears to be a sea of demons."
Revelations : "And you know what I like possibly more than anything in this - this feels like one that we maybe rescued? I have a feeling that you might have continued to work this one."
Clive : "I would have spoilt it. I'll say that quite bluntly to you because I would have overworked it - I can see places where I would have gone in again - that would have been a mistake."
Revelations : "And I like the fact that it's almost roughly-hewn in rock, rather than -"
Clive : "It's raw. Yes, I agree, it's raw, it's almost a first pass but a second pass would have fucked it up completely. And I think this conversation we're having is worth us remembering because we need at some point to talk about that - letting pictures go. When you let pictures go and how easy it is to fuck 'em up. I mean just fuck 'em up like - just not letting go fast enough."
Revelations : "And presumably the opposite is true, presumably you can let something go because you can't quite see what it might become?"
Clive : "I think the picture on 905 is a perfect example - you know? It's a minimalist landscape, isn't it? You know, classically I would have put a bird somewhere or something! But obviously I left it and I left it with - you know, so many of my paintings are phantasmagorias of one kind or another, you know?"
Revelations : "It's interesting - so 905 you rightly point out there's nothing alive in it, but it doesn't feel like a melancholy piece to me. I think the tinting of the clouds talks to some sort of peaceful place."
Clive : "I agree with you. Do you find - I mean there are obvious paintings, like there's a painting I painted after my Dad died, the figure burying his head in his hands, which are clearly melancholy - do you think there's a lot of melancholia in the paintings?"
Revelations : "I think a number of your faces are inherently melancholy."
Clive : "The best example is one that's on 895 - Despair - I mean that is probably up there with me
burying my head in my hands.
"Everything bounces off each other - an example: The Sentencing on 921 is essentially a sub-Cubist picture, right? The one that follows could not be more different, right? Commexo City is a sort of almost an Akira backcloth, you know? A manga city, you know? And it took me a shitload of time to paint that picture! Because, actually, when you get close to it there's a lot more detail in it and then, right over there you've got something we talked about quite a lot and I think we came to the right decision - Look Away and Hell Cat - they play off each other gloriously because the lines in the shoulder of the Look Away echo the lines in the skin of the Hell Cat."
Revelations : "Oh, it's almost like we planned it, isn't it..?"
Clive : "You know, we will henceforth say we did!"
Revelations : "A long time ago we had a conversation when the gallery house was chock-full of canvases and I think you were talking about the first Bert Green exhibition, saying what a task it was to take a single canvas out and give it its proper attention and how different it looked to you compared to how it had looked to you in the gallery house with quite literally hundreds and hundreds of canvases around it."
Clive : "And I think what you've done brilliantly here is even when there are two pictures - side by side like Look Away and Hell Cat - they are still removed from each other sufficiently to be treated as individual statements. They don't bleed into one another, if you will, at all - even though we've cannily put that wonderful echo of the shoulder and the cat - the brilliant subtextual effect! Even though we've got that and, though we didn't consciously think about it, it's so obvious now that I can't believe our subconscious weren't aware of it."
Revelations : "And it's the white space in Imaginer - someone described the white space to us as 'decadent' - it's giving the gallery setting to these things -"
Clive : "Agreed! I have to say, the notable highlights of the last two years have been getting these books. Thank you, my loves, this has been a delight."