Q&A with Ray Caesar

1.Name, Age, Occupation, (formality)

Raymond Tiberius Caesar, Age: 50, Occupation: Sin Eater …not very formal but look good in a tux

2.The Superbowl question: You recently “finished”, your show at Jonathan Levine Gallery, where do you go now?(The interview was written after the JLG opening, it was delayed in being published)

Ha! my answer to this is always “I dunno!” I never make plans but things always seem to be in the works or come along and I just seem to gravitate to what feels right. I don’t really approach all this like a career or a business especially at my age as it seems to me my life is half over and now I want to spend the other half just making what I enjoy to make. I do have a book coming out in a month or so by Mark Murphy and that’s been a long mysterious process to me. I just got the first copy yesterday and its really a very very nice book with about 180 pages and I cant remember making all that work … not sure where it all came from.

I also heard from my gallery I may be having a show in Paris in the fall at Magda Danyz… I like Paris. I am already working on some new work and enjoying that very much.

3.Your work has evolved from drawing on yourself to these beautiful surreal worlds in Maya. Have you ever thought of creating 3-dimensional sculptures from your Maya drawings?

Absolutely …. I have been looking into the possibility and practicality of having a 3D prototype printer for several years and the only thing holding me back is the speed of which these types of machines are developing and improving, where I can put such a thing, how environmentally safe such a thing is and whether there is a possibility I will just never come out of my home because I can make all the toys I ever wanted. I think I would love to recreate the battle of Trafalgar and all those British and French and Spanish ships and then put them all in a giant swimming pool and just have some fun. Just today I was discussing with my friend Ron how we can make a set of Nude Garden Gnomes with such a thing…the possibilities are endless.

4.I have read that many of your works are a combination of multiple ideas or environments. How do you start a new piece? Does it begin with a series of sketches? Do you have a final picture and work towards it?

I just begin and that beginning will have very little relationship with the final piece as I work intuitively with no such thing as a plan. I just start playing and when I begin I might end up with several different pieces which all go in a variety of direction. I draw and make studies both traditional and digital and mix the two. I often make a montage of unusual found images and may print those out as large sheets and bind them in a small book … might put that with sketches and studies and then put the whole thing away for months or even years. Eventually I start to model and just have fun without a care in the world. Just like a kid playing alone in their room … I just let my imagination take me where it wants to go. Often I feel something else starts to take control and whatever I had planned is secondary to what that piece wants to become.

5.The process, in my experience of making art, is that occasionally the art guides you. I believe it was Michelangelo, who said something to the effect that “The sculpture is within the stone and I am releasing it”(yes, a massive paraphrase). Do you feel the worlds you have created now have a life of their own?

I have a notion that when I wrap skin around a model and start to give it a breath of life it takes over …something begins to inhabit that skin again like a long lost soul. All my efforts are put into making a little heaven for that lost spirit as I make a place it can call its own and a place it can spend eternity.
This is just my personal mythology that I choose to believe. I see each of my completed pieces as a kind of shrine to set of emotions and feelings that come thru me as I create and I am not sure if those emotions are mine or belong to something else. I often find this process disturbing but also necessary as its been what my entire life has been about so I have learned the hard way not to ignore such things. I think we all have them and each of us finds a way to leave something here in this place before we are gone. Art is an irrational thing so I have no problem working in this irrational way and have no care to “prove” or “validate” these things in the rational world as that isn’t my purpose. My purpose is to explore my subconscious and find the mysterious things I know are lurking there…..perhaps that’s what Michelangelo was looking for in the stone as the art is inside you and it is often an arduous process to set it free.

6.Your background involves animation. Call me demented, but I would love to see an animated Saturday Morning Cartoon of your work. All your characters have life to them, have you ever thought about what they would say or how they would sound?

For example, your subject in Daybreak Study 1:

I worked in animation for some years and still have a lot of friends in that field and it is something I think about but I find animation to be a team effort and I am no team player. I like to work alone and it’s in that quiet loneliness I can find the feeling I am hunting for. I sort of see my work as a film or story that I can tell in a single frame. I don’t care what medium I use but I feel a nostalgic hunger for the single solitary image and love the fact that in some way the “picture” is older than verbal communication…a kind of communication that words can’t convey. I have a feeling that if I did a Saturday morning cartoon I would probably be lynched and shunned from polite society and would have to live in exile in some northern Canadian industrial town like Sudbury in a small shack on the edge of the forest. I sort f know what they sound like as they really do talk to me in my dreams.

“ I feel a nostalgic hunger for the single solitary image and love the fact that in some way the ‘picture’ is older than verbal communication.”

7.Your artwork has a dreamlike quality to it. Do any of the images in your pieces come from dreams you have had? If yes. Are there any dreams too difficult to translate?

I have a condition called Sleep paralysis in which I wake and cannot move and although I am awake I see and hear and feel things that doctors call hallucinations but I think they are something else. I have had some form of this since childhood but it came back in a very direct and powerful way after the death of my mother and sister. My mother died in my arms and as she died I was looking directly into her eyes and felt something move through me that changed my life. I began to have intense lucid dreaming and vivid episodes of waking dreams or visions. I had given up making art for many years and it was after these episodes that I began to realize there is a kind of doorway in the subconscious or the dream world to something I can only describe as the super-conscious or Hyper-reality. The condition of sleep paralysis is being studied at the University of Waterloo up here in Canada and it has some connection with narcolepsy. I choose neither to believe or disbelieve what I see but consign it to the realm of the irrational and use it in my purpose of making images…I feel we all connect somehow to this Super-conscious world through dreams and intuition and coincidence and the making of images is one of the best ways for the subconscious to communicate with the conscious. I am no mystic…I just experience something and choose to give that gentle thing a vehicle to become solid in the “real” world. Do I believe there is something beyond this life ? and that I have communicated with it ?…yes! Absolutely yes! I also believe we can all do it and it’s as simple as remembering your dreams and that can be done by not moving in the morning and speaking your dream aloud very softly to place the imagery and experience from one part of the brain to another. By repeating this practice you will begin to lucid dream ( to be aware in the dream that you are dreaming ) this comes about because you bring the dreams into the waking world and then the waking world starts to come into the dream world. Scientists have been able to replicate this experience and it is the cause of many religious experiences and such things as dream walking and many otherworldly experiences by many cultures. I don’t look for a rational explanation as its not important to me…I just experience it and leave it at that…sometimes I am glad I have it and sometimes I am not.

8.As we prepared for the interview, its not difficult to see the connection of your past job working at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. In your art-making process, do you believe you need to experience your subject matter to speak to it? I guess what I am getting at is the “you need to make what you know” mentality. I could not come close to visioning what you do, but I could copy it. And in art, there are a lot of influences, or copying out there.

We all have experiences and all of them are worthy of making Art or creating what we love. Each human experience whether mundane or amazing is unique to that individual and the more we live the more we experience. I think that each life is an amazing book of thousands of stories and the single act of creation is worthy of any effort and it doesn’t matter if it comes from your own experience or imagining an experience or even copying what someone else does. Its all the effort to bring about peaceful creation and there are many ways to learn the art of that. For centuries artists copied the work of so called masters and it was a way of finding a feeling or slipping into the groove of what that master created, so its all of worth and in fact actors and dancers and musicians do it all the time. If I had one wish is that we wouldn’t worry so much about visual artists making work like other artists as your own voice will come out anyway … it has to because thats just the way it works. I like to feel I am constantly changing and my work today will look nothing like my work tomorrow…its a slow process though and I just love the act of peaceful creation as its the best response to living in a world of painful destruction. Just make what is in your mind and heart today…tomorrow will come when it comes and if something inspires you…let it inspire you and experiment with it, its all good.
I just re-read your question and I guess I would say that its best when questioning yourself to not always expect a rational answer from your mind. Your subconscious knows what you need to do so go on faith or intuition or what feels right and that someplace inside you have the answer…making Art is the act of searching for that answer.

“I think that each life is an amazing book of thousands of stories and the single act of creation is worthy of any effort…”

For me the questions are about the duality of who we are as a species and growth as a spiritual entity, The conscious and the subconscious, the right brain and the left brain, The physical world and the spiritual world, the need to kill and the desire to love, Good and Evil, Dark and Light, rationality and irrationality, Hope full creation and pain full destruction. I am looking to make a bridge to these two worlds that exist inside me and the act of making that bridge is Art…making images of what I love and somehow communicating beyond words what is inside me.

9.Do you have any lingering memories form your time spent working at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto?

I remember many many years ago going into the hospital room of my niece after she had major heart surgery to fix a hole in her heart…her parents were fast asleep in the hallway and as I entered her room a small tiny boy was sitting in the chair in a dark corner of the room …he seemed so much smaller than any child I had ever seen and my niece who was half awake said his name was Steven and that he was born with half a heart and had lived his entire life in the hospital. I remember him smiling at me as he seemed to sit over my niece looking after her. It was so strange as no one else remembered the boy but my niece still does and I still do. I have a very strange feeling about that boy and his knowing smile and for some reason that is a memory of that hospital I will never forget. My niece is now grown up into an amazingly beautiful woman and is strong and healthy and I think that day I was aloud to see her guardian. Every time I make a picture I think of him and many others of that big old place. I believe all hospitals are a piece of Heaven on Earth and are populated by angels both of this world and the next world and that they are places where anyone who cares to spend time will see miracles on a daily bases. Those miracles are hard won though and come about in a long and hard process …a child sees a tragedy and then as the child grows they study hard for years to become a doctor and that doctor has the courage to cut into a child’s heart and fix a hole and stitches her up and then moves to the next child …well that to me is a miracle.

(Clockwise:(Mother Manis, Queen of Flies, detail of Metatron)

10.In art, once you become ‚”known‚” for something or a style, it‚’s hard to move away or evolve into new directions. I was once a studio assistant for a painter, who already created a name and a voice for himself. At times he seemed to be conflicted when he would contradict himself, but at the same time he was making amazing work. Which leads me to ask, some of the pieces from your most recent show have a more delicate, oil paint look to them. Is this a new direction you are moving towards with your artwork?

(saddle study 20 x 24)

I never worry about keeping a style or direction as I don’t care one whit whether my work sells or not and if it doesn’t it wont be anything to do with keeping a small fear in my heart like that. I only started making this work when I gave up small fears and those small fears lead to big heavy fears that can drown you in life. I do know that my work has had a strangely similar feel since the first stuff I worked on as a child …I once tried to change this by working in many different ways…even abstraction and trying to do completely different work..but that same old feeling crept back into it and I decided that thread of familiarity was just who I am. I don’t bother to try and keep it or discard it now and just let it show up whenever it wants to. I do know my family of souls look a certain way and its not something I seem to be able to change one way or another. I just try to make work I love and that keeps changing and evolving. I don’t believe in the word “style”…its like trying to change to the sound of your voice after hearing it on a recording…you might be able to sound like Robert Deniro for five minutes but after a while you will be speaking with your voice again no matter what you do…so you go thru life not worrying about it…unless of course you are Eliza Doolittle. Ha! Contradiction…I contradict myself all the time and just accept that I always will…Those delicate pieces in the show that are more vague are my studies . I just never showed them before because I never thought they were interesting but the publisher of my book Mark Murphy wanted to use them so I decided to put them in the show simply because they are in the book and I know people will ask about them. I was surprised people even gave them a second glance and actually wanted them. I am always surprised why people want art as I don’t collect myself as I have no time…too busy making it I guess. Those pieces are softer and more delicate and vague and painterly because that is how my mind works early on in the process and how the images are in my mind and after working and working the images become more real more vivid and sharp and I suppose I just like that way they develop. I enjoy each stage of that development and there are many other things and ways I work as I love to experiment and just play…it all comes from just sitting in the sun and playing without a care.

11.Your work is contains a range of symbolism including Victorian objects, furniture, hairstyles, and clothing as well as insect/alien-like appendages and a 50’s feel. Can you comment on any of these symbols and your interest in these time periods?

I love every form of image making I can think of ..old paintings, fashion photography from the fifties and comic books from the sixties and “I Love Lucy Shows” and Knitting pattern books my Mom used to have…sifting through antiques and old Victorian underwear and the regency period of Jane Austen, old Japanese movies of the 1940s and 50s…the past and the future we thought we would have is a vast cornucopia of amazement to me…I love it all…I just haven’t got to it all yet and I have put in a requisition for several more lifetimes so I can do it all. I haven’t heard back from the head office but if I don’t get those lifetimes I am going to steal them…either that or Iam never going to die…one or the other.

12.Many of your pieces show glimpses of an imaginary world outside. Where do you imagine that world to be?

I think each of us makes a heaven or hell on this Earth and the material we use is the stuff our lives are made of…I am working on creating a vast Elysian Field of dreams…a Heaven…an Eden…a simple and tiny paradise of a single room for a single soul to have a place of eternal peace and joy. I am just doing what anyone does on a Sunday afternoon in their garden…planting this and that and watching it grow and making a nice place to sit in the sun. It seems a good idea to me so I am gonna stick with it and see where my ship takes me…If the gods are with me so be it and I will honor them all and bow to none!…and for once I am not looking at a compass and not worrying about the weather. I am just guiding myself by my heart and by the stars.

13.One of my many favorite pieces is “Madre” Can you speak to the work and what it means to you? Do you have any favorite pieces from your body of work?

Madre is about my Mother. She always seemed to have a hand in everything and she was literally born without any concept of the word Fear. I always remember her sitting there innocently like little miss Muffet…but she wasn’t afraid of any spider as she was the “The Spider”. I never saw her afraid of anything and I suspect it wasn’t an act as she just didn’t understand the concept. The little money spiders coming from her purse are her children and she too is a creature of the night. She never liked wearing red in life but shortly after her death I had a very vivid lucid dream about her and we were able to speak for a short time ..I was amazed as she was wearing a red coat and I asked her about it and she just laughed.

14.What inspires you? Are there any current artists that you find inspiring? Have any artists, musicians or writers influenced your artwork?

For current artists I love the work of Chiho Aoshima and Gottfried Helnwein, Mathew Barney. I am inspired by anything but for the most part its historical painters like Jean Honere Fragonard or Wattau and Boucher, John Singer Sargent or E.C Tarbell, Mary Cassat, Diane Arbus, Joseph Cornell, Christian Dior, Cecil Beaton…I could go on forever

15.Do you have playlist of music that inspires you?

Was on this blog not long ago http://musicisart.ws/?p=436

I am listening a lot ot Duffy lately but this is what I am listening too right now

We want to Thank our good TWBE friend Rob Morton, for helping us out with the research and Q&A with Ray.

4 Comments, Comment or Ping

Reply to “Q&A with Ray Caesar”