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Clive Barker - Apocalypses: Paintings and Works on Paper
Clive Barker, The Comets, 2007, Oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in. Courtesy of Packer Schopf Gallery Chicago.

CHICAGO.- Packer Schopf Gallery, Chicago, presents Clive Barker - Apocalypses: Paintings and Works on Paper, on view through February 16, 2008. Since the mid-eighties, Clive Barker has concocted intricate, dark fantasy worlds in film and fiction. One of his first novels became the cult horror classic, Hellraiser, adapted and directed by Barker himself. His most recent publication, the hauntingly, self-reflexive Mister B. Gone (2007), suggests to the reader that the book he holds in his hands is possessed. In the early nineties, Barker began expressing his vicious visions in the medium of painting, a selection of which are on view at Packer- Schopf gallery. Like his movies and books, Barker's paintings investigate reality, sexuality, and morality. Dancing across paper and canvas, one will find monsters and martyrs in all degrees of pain and pleasure, some of them howling like Edward Munch's The Scream. The largest canvases describe ominous, anthropomorphic landscapes with solitary mountains, cathedrals in flames, and black moons.

This painted world of physical deformities and Boschian earthly delights is appropriately rendered in a hyper-tactile impasto technique, with juicy gobs of paint and urgent scratch marks, demanding these works be seen in the flesh. One can sense violence in Barker's act of creation, which he describes as a physically strenuous and sweaty affair. We can imagine Barker frantically trying to give form to his demons and fetishes. For Barker, painting is a visceral, non-intellectual process: "Writing - particularly the large books that I write - is a ritual, filled with elaborate, intellectual processes, and structuring a book is a big puzzle. Painting is not a puzzle. Painting is red and yellow. Painting is filling the brush with something that looks so tasty you feel like you could feed off it for a thousand years, then slapping it on the canvas and feeling an immediate emotional rush from it...Painting is about unleashing. Painting to me is: paint and a lot of cheap cigars and a lot of loud music." Where his epic novels require sustained mental effort, and his films require the collaboration with numerous other people, painting allows Barker to indulge in the immediacy of personal expression.

It is this directness and intensity of emotion that connects Barker to those artistic traditions that favored the personal, the irrational, and the fantastical. In his paintings, we can find traces of the mystical, solitary moments portrayed in works of Romanticism. We can sense a return to the exploration of dreams and neuroses that was the project of Symbolism and Surrealism. And we can feel the deep emotional angst that characterizes Expressionism. Indeed, Barker cites Goya's monsters, William Blake's visions of heaven and hell, and all "fantastical painters, painters who used paint to express extremes of emotion" as key inspirations. Blake figured the devil as having both creative and destructive potential, a paradox that pervades Barker's personal universe, where lines are not drawn between heaven and hell, pleasure and pain. Barker reflects that he seeks "a more complex vision of religion than the simple 'good and bad.'"

The exhibition at Packer-Schopf juxtaposes the most stark and minimal of Barker's sketches with his most lush and epic expressions on canvas, thereby encompassing the whole spectrum of the artist's process. One way to experience this display, then, is as a record of the birth of a visual idea as it develops from a rudimentary collection of marks to a fully orchestrated scene. Even in their most developed state, each picture seems to offer only part of a story. Various characters are isolated in their respective canvases, while other canvases focus on an as yet unpopulated setting. If each painting in itself seems to be a fragment of a larger narrative, then the paintings together animate each other to form a more complete drama, a total view of an artist's imagination.

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