As with all the artists I interview, I find it very hard to write an objective, professional and analytical introduction. So, I must admit that I'm finding it difficult to write anything that isn't just high praise for Wayne and his amazing, incredible, inspirational, inventive, technical, stunning, awe inspiring, original, brilliant, awesome art work.
I did try... albeit not very hard.
With an impressive career history (check here on his website and read it all), crossing different media effortlessly, Wayne Barlowe is an important artist of our time. He produces traditional and digital paintings and is most known for his Hell work. But, as I learned, there is more to him than paintings of the Underworld and extraterrestrial life.
Most recently, he worked on the Avatar film, producing initial design work for the creatures of Pandora which, I can imagine was a great deal of fun. Of course, true fans of Barlowe's work will recognise the similarities to the Avatar job (as in creating alien life for another world) as baring a close resemblance to Wayne's very own project "EXPEDITION" in which he created numerous realistic looking creatures that could very well exist on another planet.
ABADDON OF THE PIT - Wayne Barlowe: "This digital paint-sketch was created after I spent some serious time with the Painter program on PARADISE LOST. It represents another small step towards understanding that brilliant program but is, by no means, more than an exercise."
Lloyd Harvey - Looking at all of the work you have done over the years that is listed in your biography on your website (which lists having worked in film, computer games, the publishing industry, television, toys, trading cards and the release of your own novel), what else is left for you to try? Directing? Making music maybe?
Wayne Barlowe - Ha – well, I do like to try different things. Keeps things interesting. Currently, I am writing my second screenplay. My first one (INFERNO) was written ten years ago and optioned by Fox Feature Animation before they closed their doors. It was allegedly going to be their next feature. That screenplay became GOD’S DEMON. My current writing endeavor is something completely new.
At present I cannot discuss what the project is but it will be my next Big Thing. I do like to write and so I suppose this could be a direction I would enjoy trying my hand at. I doubt that directing is in my future but with the proper support and encouragement who knows? I just don’t feel I have the training for it, frankly.
Bladderhorn - Wayne Barlowe: "Nothing like a bit of comic-relief in an otherwise savage eco-system. What could be odder than a blue, bipedal animal with antlers? No question that I was thinking about elk here."
What exactly is it about painting, writing and generally the creative process, that you enjoy the most? And what attracted you to a career in the creative industries?
I pretty much had no choice in the matter – embarking on the creative path was in my blood. Both parents were illustrators and imbued me with a sense of creativity from a very early age. I started out in publishing but that landscape changed over the years and I realized that, as a freelance, I would have to adapt my skills to a changing world. So, I began to generate my own projects.
That sense of creative autonomy – whether real or not – is what excites me. I love world-building and showing an audience environments, characters and creatures that they would not otherwise imagine. I revel in the organic process of creation – to me the minutiae involved in creating new worlds is what adds a sense of verisimilitude.
With that said, I did discover that writing enabled me to more fully flesh out my imaginings. Originating with my love of Howard Pyle’s books, the combination of art and text has always fascinated me. Now, with publishing having serious difficulties, the natural venue-shift would be towards film.
Your novel, “God’s Demon,” is set in the sunny setting of Hell. Hell itself can be found in numerous religions and mythologies from across the world in an archetypal form of an ‘underworld.’ I feel that Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost had the biggest parts to play in shaping your own view of Hell, but were there any myths in particular which also inspired your visions? Like Hades for example? Or did your own religious beliefs/non beliefs play a bigger role?
I would have to say that Milton’s vision took pre-eminence. He had a way of depicting Hell that was both hierarchical and natural. It felt very much like a real place to me while I was reading PL. For me, though, I had to reach back to myths that felt old. I was not interested in newer images of Hell because to me they were like copies of copies – weak and distilled and kind of idiosyncratic to their times. This feels true to me about Dante. His wonderful poems are satires filled with contemporary references and not all that grand.
Milton touched on something else – an overblown grandiosity that seemed in keeping with Hell’s new denizens. This struck me as fertile ground. And so, you can see in my paintings a lot of buildings and statues, etc. that are improbably huge – a statement of ego from the demons that also serves to diminish the souls.
Sargatanas - Wayne Barlowe: "There's a lot of improvisation in this piece. I wanted to leave some of the organically flowing elements, especially around his metamorphic head, to chance, to let my paintbrush do the thinking, as it were. And I also wanted to let the paint, itself, flow a little more freely to enhance the sense of dynamism this character has always had in my mind."
From another interview I have read, there is a sequel in the works. Do you find that writing gets in the way of painting or do you have a harmonious balance where the two disciplines get equal attention?
I find my time to write to be woefully inadequate. I seem to be endlessly distracted by other projects – my own included. Writing the screenplay, for example, has happily forced me to push aside the second book for some time. But I will get back to it and finish it. I feel a strong urge to complete the tale either in one or two more books.
Hell is such a rich world and there is so much that can be achieved in creating it. As for painting, I just finished a painting for this secret project and it took me nearly a year. Not because it is so elaborate or wonderful – just because I have become a slower more methodical painter and my time is split in so many ways.
The Examination - Wayne Barlowe: "While souls are treated as a resource by demons in an unthinkable number of ways in Hell, a true understanding of them as once-living organisms on a physical level is absent. The fact that Lucifer went to war in large part because of them has created a curiosity that many demons find irresistible. The inspiration for this painting is fairly obvious: all of those great Flemish paintings of medical examinations, of doctors gathered around splayed-out corpses."
With the work on your book, some of the films your have worked on (Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II and the two of the darker Harry Potter films: The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire) and the majority of the work on your website, I sense you gravitate towards the dark and surreal more than anything else, why do you think this is? Am I wrong to think that and is it just a coincidence?
You are not entirely wrong – I have always felt there was more depth to be plumbed in the darker characters and environments. For all my “sunny disposition” I have a streak of darkness within me that comes out creatively. But don’t we all? On the other hand I will take on any film design gig that comes my way. That is, of course, part of being a professional, something I learned doing ten years worth of paperback covers. You can’t always pick and choose.
I will say that once you get a reputation for one kind of thing you do get typed and so, I suppose, directors look at my work and see what they need and it becomes a self-perpetuating thing. The Hell work has, I’m sure, influenced people to think that is what I do, forgetting that I did books on aliens and dinosaurs.
Questions Every Artist Gets Asked
Sac-Back - Wayne Barlowe: "The weird region around the Amoebic Sea seemed to me to be the perfect place to push the envelope in terms of designing stranger creatures. Also, when I began to conceive the Sac-back, I was nearing the end of my personal design odyssey and wanted to make sure that I had enough really odd creatures in the book."
What has been your career highlight to date?
There have been two and I would have to split them into personal challenges and professional challenges. Personally, writing GOD’S DEMON is without a doubt the most satisfying project I have completed. Professionally, doing the initial creature designs for AVATAR has no parallel.
What was your big break into the illustration industry?
My big break was doing an interior illustration for a magazine called COSMOS back when I was in college. It got the ball rolling and ultimately spelled the abbreviated end of my college endeavors.
What was the best piece of artistic advice you have received or can offer?
Hard to say. But my own advice would simply be this: Know the technical side of drawing and anatomy and be original!
Watchtower - Lloyd Harvey: "This piece is one of my favourite Barlowe paintings. The sense of scale is intimidating and the eyes, greatly unsettling. I love it."
What do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?
Well, that is another tough question. By now I am well-known enough to not put much effort into marketing. I have website that seems effective. That’s it. People frequently ask me how they can get to where I am (which is not where I WANT to be, btw) and I have no solid answer for them. I grew up and worked in an entirely different era, an era when if you knew how to maneuver in publishing you could rise through the ranks and make a name for yourself. Honestly, my books were the introduction to Hollywood. Can that be done today? Perhaps, but with a lot more effort. I am dubious that that path would succeed.
As an artist, what are the biggest challenges that you face?
My demons are mostly internal. I feel that I haven’t yet completely finished with paintings of Hell and for that matter I want to paint Sargatanas as a seraph. My secret project is an ongoing challenge and it will be quite telling as far as my future is concerned. I guess, all in all, I feel that self-improvement on all fronts – writing and painting and conceiving – is the battleground of the future. And will always be so.
Sargatanas Descending - Wayne Barlowe: "Like all Demons Major, Sargatanas is a metamorphic being. Because distances between cities in Hell are considerable - determined for the most part by where the most influential demons Fell - the need to travel quickly between them is rare. Nonetheless, demons like Sargatanas are capable of sprouting great fan-like wings that bear some resemblance to their former seraphic or cherubic wings for just such journeys."
If you could have lunch with a fictitious character, who would that be?
Do my own count? No? Okay then – Milton’s Satan, of course!
Do you have any tattoos?
Yes. I have a large Maori kirituhi of a Taniwha that goes from my shoulder to my elbow.
What are you top 5, all time favorite albums?
The Soundtrack to WHALE RIDER, NIN’s STILL, Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony, Handel’s Concerti Grossi Op. 6, Peter Gabriel’s SO
What handed are you? Left, right or ambidextrous? Or do you use your feet to paint?
How pedestrian – I use Something Else, of course. Sheesh. (I am right-handed.)
Do you have any phobias? (if so, what are they?)
Nope – I am perfect.
There are more amazing paintings by Wayne Barlowe on his website: here
Here is a website devoted to God's Demon