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ART REVIEW : Clive Barker Exhibition a Horror Show

August 19, 1995|DAVID PAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — "The Imagination of Clive Barker" is a coherent exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculptures that takes viewers on a spiritless journey into a nightmarish nether world crawling with one-eyed serpents, half-human mutants and crucifix-toting ghouls.

At the Laguna Art Museum's satellite gallery at South Coast Plaza, flames fly from an arsonist's fiery eyes, hairless figures sprout pins, porcupine quills or tree branches, and giant spikes impale angelic creatures. Silhouetted gallows violate the horizon as beakers stuffed with bodily organs litter the foreground. Everywhere in between, stray tentacles slither into the generic, Godforsaken picture.

If this exhibition is any indication, the imagination of Clive Barker is a claustrophobic space jampacked with creeps and cliches. Despite the hyperbolic excesses of the renowned horror writer's fantasy life, his densely populated imagination leaves plenty of room for commercialization.

In fact, Barker's venture into the fine arts is an entirely commercial enterprise. His large oils-on-canvas and medium-size works on paper never flesh out existing characters or explore new stories. Paint's intrinsic physical qualities are barely broached, much less exploited. Instead, the writer-producer merely rehashes scenes and themes, using oil, ink and pencil to illustrate preconceived ideas.

As a result, "The Imagination of Clive Barker" looks like a pricey extension of a souvenir shop. None of the images are so graphic, explicit or tasteless that they're likely to offend middlebrow sensibilities. Strangely lifeless, these murky, stylized pictures are too bland to horrify. Most of the prominently displayed posters, T-shirts and photographs pack more punch (and cost a lot less) than the paintings and drawings.

Art as a marketing spinoff is not a new idea nor necessarily a bad one. With the commercial machinery of Hollywood and the paperback-publishing industry already behind Barker, individual, handmade pictures pale in comparison, seeming pitifully beside the point.

* "The Imagination of Clive Barker," at the Laguna Art Museum's South Coast Plaza Satellite, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Open weekdays noon to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 10 to 7 p.m. and Sundays 11 to 6:30 p.m. Through Oct. 29. Free. (714) 662-3366.

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