It’s midnight and a mist has descended on a sleepy suburb of North Derby, dimming the flickering jaundice streetlights. In the dull contrast a grim figure cuts a shape, tendrils clutching at the tarmac void between us, beckoning us towards them.
All lies. It’s midday and the sun is shining with a vague attempt at a drizzle which is much less foreboding and we’re sworn to secrecy as to our exact location. Russell Cherrington created a much understated event on Facebook advertising private tours of his extensive Clive Barker collection with several layers of secrecy between obtaining a ticket and viewing the gallery. Guests donated money to Eden Valley Hospice in Cumbria in exchange for access to these works and an extensive chat with our host. This turned out to be a very exclusive gathering with less than 50 people visiting during the day, although he is considering repeating the event at a future date.
Cherrington is the Senior Lecturer of Film and Video Production at the University of Derby and has extensive industry experience. He has a long standing personal and professional link to Barker and has worked with him on several projects, most notably Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut. His enthusiasm for Barker’s work is clear and stretches from a substantial collection of first and limited edition books, multiple standard copies with different hand drawn illustrations and even a handmade tome of sketches, one of less than 15 of their kind ever constructed.
My knowledge of Barker’s work began the same as most in the Hellraiser series of films, then the two series of Tortured Souls models that Todd MacFarlane released. Until this exhibition I didn’t quite grasp how extensive and impressive the art collection would be, and it appears that the man has created in the region of nine hundred canvasses. According to Cherrington some of these were disposed in a good burn up. Knowing that creates such mixed feeling – the loss of art alongside the respect of an artist over their choice of what publically sees the light of day.
We took in a wide range of pieces throughout our visit. Like any artist with a career covering more than a decade or two there is clear evidence of development. His early work contains significantly more detail, careful line work and colour grading. Pencil sketches and ink work over the years becomes fast and reactionary, scribbles and broad ink strokes. We see a series of three images which are the build up from conception to final piece where a rough sketch is the starting point through to a final behemothic oiled canvas. Content of these sketches is broad, several within the collection focus on Abarat and there is an unmistakeable Pinhead study in another. One frame in particular stands out, a white on black intricate line work which was created and features within an short film called The Forbidden.
The majority of the canvasses in the collection are huge at what I imagine to be at least six feet by four feet. These later pieces can be appreciated on two levels, close up in detail and at distance to take in the broader subject. The images at distance create wondrous, graceful creatures from a variety of his literature through to the sexually vivid, challenging works. The larger canvasses have been attacked in a much broader way than the smaller pieces as evidenced by the off-white canvass being exposed in certain areas as the brushes reach the end of a dry stroke, leaving weave behind. Colours are thickly blended together in grand sweeps, the fine detail of early work is left behind, and rightly so – micromanaging gradient on this scale is an all or nothing approach.
The paint is layered fast and thick, with some wonderful textures being created as the large globules layer up and settle. Other works have fine scrape work ploughed into them, a reversed end of a paint brush perhaps, carving through the base layers.
Each canvas contains eloquence and beauty on a darker level, all essentially Barker but much different to the works found within the films. Once you move beyond that initial dissonance it all becomes captivating and whilst we spent around an hour and a half there, we could easily have stayed for six if we could. It is all artwork that needs to be indulged in.
This was indeed a unique opportunity and should Cherrington ever decide to share again then it is a collection well worth revisiting.
Clive Barker’s own artwork can be found on his website here.
The donation page relating to this event and Eden Valley Hospice can be found here.
Images by Ian Cudmore at I C Things Photography.