How Clive Barker Found Inspiration in Harlan Ellison’s House
Clive Barker's own home and work was influenced by his viewing of Ellison’s art collection—and a peek inside his bomb shelter.
Before he truly made his mark as a horror author, Clive Barker was in search of a place where he could grow as an artist. He wanted to paint large-scale paintings—some as high as 25 feet tall—and he found just the right three-story space to build a studio when he moved from England to America. His inspiration for this “dream space”?
The legendary estate of the late, great Harlan Ellison.
“[Harlan] had such an incredible collection of fantastic paintings,” Barker says on a new episode of Post Mortem with Mick Garris. “They were classics—covers of Weird Tales and all that wonderful ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s stuff.”
Garris recalls his own visit to “Ellison Wonderland” just as fondly. He didn’t, however, get a look inside Ellison’s bomb shelter, as Barker did when he was there. (“I do know that you had to go through a hobbit door to get into it,” Garris says.)
“Behind [the door] was a locked room which he said would survive three atom bombs,” Barker says. “This is all very Harlan, right? Maybe if that’s true, then you’re just saying ‘Hello’ to the cockroaches when you get out! But it was an incredible room, because in there, he had the books that he’d collected over the years that he would want to survive the apocalypse. I don’t have a bomb-proof room, but I’ve got those books, too—the books that I feel bespeak our culture.”
Barker says that the books he’d turn to in a post-apocalyptic world tend to be horror, science-fiction, and fantasy. “Those genres, even now, are less respected than what we likely call ‘literary fiction,’” he laments—but then again, the once-overlooked gems of Ellison’s art collection are a reminder of how that kind of cultural snobbery has existed for eons.
“Harlan had the taste to buy hundreds of such paintings and hung them all over his house. And he probably bought that stuff for a song, because nobody wanted that kind of painting back then,” says Barker. Garris adds: “Nobody except the fans wanted those ‘cartoon illustrations.’ They wanted ‘fine art,’ without realizing, What is finer than Bernie Wrightson or Jack Kirby originals?”