Wednesday, April 16, 2008
CLIVE From New York
Today, Sloan Fine Art in New York is opening an exhibit of recent works by horror renaissance man – nay, horror Zeus (kaaaaaa-BOOM!) - Clive Barker, doubtless as a highbrow tie-in to the opening of Barker’s newest story-to-film, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, next month.
If you like, please take a moment and work through all your giggling at that title before you go on.
Five dollars says Barker was sporting a wry smile at the very least when he wrote that one.
The folks at Lionsgate are themselves sporting some new gray hairs because audiences have been laughing at the trailer for a film that should be, by all rights, one of the goriest and most harrowing produced this century. Vinny Jones, a modern shade of Rondo Hatton, starring as a serial killer that hunts subway riders to feed his subterranean mutant masters – what is not to love, I ask you? But come on. The trailer could show Hitler sodomizing a baby fur seal with a white-hot post-hole digger and if it ended with a deep, serious voiceover saying “MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN,” someone would still snort out a chuckle. A movie with that title should be starring Big Dick Blacque, not the guy from KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL.
Brooke Shields, though – meh, gray area.
I read Barker’s collections, THE BOOKS OF BLOOD, about two decades ago and while I only recall the story’s ending, it’s certainly possible that MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN had a veiled sexual punchline in there somewhere. Barker has never been one to shy away from the horror of sex, especially in his earlier work. Have you read THE AGE OF DESIRE? It’s basically Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde if Hyde were an enormous, raging erection. Terrifying? Oh sweet crispy deep-fried jeezus, yes. I’ve only read the TORTURED SOULS novelette since Barker came out with CABAL in 1988 so I can’t speak to works like THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW and THE THIEF OF ALWAYS, but Barker’s auteurism births horror with two earmarks; that mayhem and violation of one’s body is a primal horror that shivers us all the way down to our caveman genes; and that the only thing more horrifying than witnessing said mutilated body, helpless and bloody in a whimpering heap, would be to find it arousing.
The exhibit at Sloan is in two piles. There’s a miscellaneous group of relatively tame, surreal images, about half of which are architectural and make me think that Barker really got a kick out of the panoramas in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. His work is very cinematic, which is either somewhat ironic or perfectly logical for a novelist that paints. In the hands of a less visionary man, images like THE LIGHTNING TREE could easily be dismissed as the stuff of van paintings. But somehow, when Barker does them, there’s life in them. You can see them in your mind’s eye as if you were viewing them on a big screen. They’re beautiful. If those talented boys at WETA were to bring THE LIGHTNING TREE or THE PALACE OF RAIN LANTERN to cinematic life, every dungeonmaster in Berkeley would die of priapism.
The other pile are Barker’s concept paintings for MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN. Now we’re talkin’. The mutilated beings depicted are the result of some demonic four-way between Frankenstein’s monster, a Morlock, Jeffrey Dahmer and, of course, Pinhead. They are unclean. Barker’s style is unclean. In this context, that’s decidedly a compliment.
His brushstrokes are furious and primal, imbuing his creations with movement and savagery as if they were caged animals, trapped on a piece of paper not quite two feet square. There is little or no finesse apparent in his technique, almost as if he were trying to kill the paper by stabbing it with his paintbrush. But liked a crazed killer from one of his own stories, each stab meets the paper with purpose. Horror is not pretty.
One of my favorites of the bunch, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN 6, vibrates on a web of black lines with an expressionistic style reminiscent of Willem de Kooning’s figural studies. Have you ever seen de Kooning’s “people”? They’re just…horribly wrong. Similarly, the abattoir in MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN 7 immediately recalled Francis Bacon’s HEAD SURROUNDED BY SIDES OF BEEF for me. For my nickel, this is fine company for a painter to find himself in. In an industry where the average pre-production sketch ends up in a landfill or on ebay, the fact that Barker’s warrant wall space in a New York gallery is a testament to the man’s talent and vision. Whether a director can accurately translate that vision to the screen is irrelevant: the painting themselves are sexy, sexy nightmares.
(What? Just because I spend all my time talking about Dario Argento and George Romero, you think I don’t know from de Kooning and Bacon? Baron gots mad skillz, fanboy. Now get thee to a museum.)
The Barker exhibit is open at Sloan Fine Art through May 10. If you happen to be in New York proper, pop in and tell them Baron Von Goolo sent you. It will confuse the staff and I will find that amusing.