Ray Caesar / Artist
Interview: Despina Monoyiou
He was born in England and moved with his family to Canada at the 60s. His art is a healing process both for himself and the spectator. It had always been a way out of painful memories and hard to bare emotions.
His digital images, worked in a 3-D modeling software, consist of a mixture of ingredients such as pain, fear, sexuality, taboo.
Ray Caesar is a well known and humble artist with numerous solo exhibitions and group shows around the world.
“I was born in London, England on October 26, 1958, the youngest of four and much to my parent’s surprise, I was born a dog.” Why a dog Mr. Caesar? And how would you describe your breed?
I am most definitely a Mutt. I was born in 1958, the year of the dog. I lived as a dog born into a family of wolves and I accepted life on these terms just as a dog does. What I love about dogs is that they are kind, gentle and willing to make a fool of themselves, but when it comes down to it they are willing to lay their life to defend you without a second thought. They balance violence and gentleness better than any creature on earth and I feel we have a lot to learn from them.
You have come a long way since your early days in Toronto, being young and restless, walking around with a GI Joe figurine named Stanley Mulver around your neck, reminding you the kind of person you would like to grow into. Do you feel that you have lived a life working on that goal, even unconsciously?
I do! I make a great effort to be a good person and I have to accept that my own childhood was an effort to make me into a monster. Since I was very young I have had a distinct and clear idea of the kind of person I wanted to be and I still struggle to be that person to this day and until the day I die.
Not only you have had a troubled childhood but you have also witnessed child abuse, surgical reconstruction and mental illness during your 17-year career in the “Art and Photography Department of The Hospital For Sick Children” in Toronto. Was art your own shelter?
I think that for as long as I could remember the act of making images was and still is a practice not dissimilar from writing in a diary. It is a way for me to put my thoughts and feelings both conscious and unconscious down on paper for “safe keeping” for “Self Examination” for “coping”. I find the written word limiting, but image and color and
composition express emotion and feeling in a more vivid way. As a child I quickly found that I could draw a window into another world or escape into a book of pictures to a safer place and even hide elements of myself in that place…I could hide my own innocence, frailty and fear in such places and lock them away… and then come back to face the real world of my childhood and know a part of me was always protected.
You have been burning drawings since your childhood, back in England. Is that a cathartic process and a way to vanish unfortunate situations?
Some things we see and experience are too difficult to bear, especially for a child. I developed a way of turning obsessive difficult memory into a picture and by doing so I let myself endure that what I could not endure. I often made a ritual out of burning the picture when its purpose was done, not to vanish the memory but to release it. Ritual has a healing property to it that helps us to “let go”. One day we will all become dust and ashes and I choose to imagine that the best part of us lives on in some way.
Your artwork is moving, yet disturbing and surreal. What impact you wish those images of hurt children have on the viewer?
To experience being a hurt child and then to have to see hurt children everyday at work can be unbearable. I make a picture in my mind of a world in which that child is safe and make a place no adult or act of nature can ever hurt that child again. My figures are archetypes of spiritual healing and growth to remind myself and others that life is a gift and my children are reminders to treasure that gift.
Do you feel that children viewers are more receptive as far as surreal images are concerned?
Children create freely without concern of what others think and they have an astonishing ability to create worlds in their own mind from nothing. I think a child’s mind is more open and accepting of all kinds of things and the surreal is probably an everyday occurrence for them. I remember seeing snow for the first time and seeing it blanket the world in an icy coating of white. So many things are surreal to children and we should not forget that a child still lives in each one of us as it is the child in us that learnt to walk and talk and adapt to the world. In many ways the adult stands on the shoulders of that little ancestor and is the child in us that is the very foundation of who we are.
I get the sense that the borders between realism and surrealism are being intercrossed in your work. For example, children with angelic faces appear to be hunting, giving birth, bleeding, being erotic in a way. What does this ‘marriage’ stand for?
The images are essentially a self portrait of my own sense of self, my own memories and feelings. I add elements into the world I create in differing amounts of doses and I don’t hold back on these ingredients even when they might be uncomfortable. I have no choice but to represent truth of my own memory and the components of my own history. There is definitely a story in my world and this narrative uses the subconscious and conscious elements that have been the building blocks of who I am. I play with these elements in a personal way to evoke feelings in myself and others in such a way that my interpretations may not be what others see at all.
Would you agree that surrealism is no longer as illogical and hard to comprehend as it might have been during Dali’s days, for instance? Is there a need for more realism nowadays? Is there a greater need for the dream to become a reality? Or for things to be said in a more straightforward way?
I don’t think any art should be hard to comprehend. For me, art is less about meaning than it is about feeling – we all know how a piece of art makes us feel and need no explanation from another for that. I only examine the emotions that art brings forth in me, and me alone. I find my own mind thinks and dreams in what others might refer to as “surreal” but for me it is quite normal to see the world in this way.
Dreams are an important part of our life as we spend an inordinate amount of time in this life dreaming. They are the mode of communication of our subconscious mind to our conscious self. I have always found mystery in my dreams and a place I often return to that has no reference to this world at all.
It’s not so important for the dream to become reality for me as it is the feeling that dreams provoke that I feel needs to be examined.
Many nautical references are involved in your work. What do they represent?
I have always felt that I am sailing on the sea of the subconscious. I explore its depths and bring back treasures from my own past that have been lying on the ocean floor for a long time. I have always been drawn to the naval life of the 18th century and wonder if I lived a past existence during that time.
Which things/factors/people in life have helped you moved to the other side of the road, living inside those “windows” you would -as a kid- define as joy, safety and warmth?
I met my wife Michiko when I was 15 and she has an ability to create calm in the middle of a storm. When I am with her I feel I can accomplish many things and see the world through her stable and centered existence. Her Japanese culture has become part of the fabric of my own life and it helps give me balance.
Human beings fall and their duty is to rise again. What is your awakening call and has it changed throughout the years?
I am always in a condition of self improvement. To keep trying to observe all aspects of myself and my world around me and improve from the center outwards. To make the world a little more pleasant and to be part of the solution to a more vibrant future. I love this planet
and I want to see the best for it. I have a strong belief that creative ideas create a concrete reality.