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Ray Caesar

The celebrated illustrator talks about his many influences, his ghost-like visions and his exploration of the unconscious…

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Born in London in 1958, Ray emigrated to Toronto with his family. He’s worked as a 3D effects artist on various sci-fi and fantasy projects, but has spent the last five years working solely on his own artwork.

 Web: http://www.raycaesar.com

With his work exhibited around the world, excessive demand for book and CD covers, and his own book of images on the way, Ray Caesar’s career in art is turning into a great success. He has achieved a near-legendary status. But unlike his Roman namesake, Ray isn’t a man to raise a glass to himself, get excited about accolades nor, indeed, be hunted by hubris. He’s quiet, shy and humble, almost unaware of his influence.
“The concept of success is a strange one to me. I don’t think about being an artist or making art, I just simplify it down to making what I love,” he says.
What he loves is creating a realm where different forms come together in fascinating ways. Doll-like characters with perfect porcelain complexions and coy expressions find their lower halves replaced with a clutch of spider legs, or squid tentacles. Angelic visions have the wings of bats. And they all enjoy a world that has been perfectly decorated in Baroque-like detail.
“In my work I create a window into a place that is a sanctuary or small heaven, or Eden, for troubled memories and disquiet spirits,” he explains. “A place where man and nature can never hurt them again. It’s their world now and I give them protective spells of magic, or a notion that comes in the form of a cat or spider… a creature of the sea or sky.”

Starting with the background
Ray has been working as an artist for the last five years but his previous jobs really give an interesting background to what he creates and why. While at the Toronto company GVFX he worked on a range of science fiction TV shows as a senior digital animator and learned a bit of everything – skills that today he turns to the 3D sculpting of his current works.
Even more interesting though is the 17 years he spent at the Hospital for Sick Children in the same city. Employed in the art and photographic department he worked with imagery of child abuse, reconstructive surgery, animal testing, premature infants and medical machinery. He saw the cruelties of man and nature, but also miracles and hope. “I learned that the human hand can be cruel but more often that it can perform heart surgery or write a cheque to build a new wing of a hospital or just simply brush away a child’s tear.”
Perhaps as a consequence of this, he thinks of his paintings as a garden where beauty shows itself under the moonlight, and is not subjected to the hate and fear we see in the everyday world. He aims for love and calm understanding in his work.
When asked about his influences, Ray begins describing a cocktail party (and a strange one at that). Who’s there? Robert Campin, Jan Van Eyk, Boucher, Fragonard, Le Brun, Chardin, Gainsborough and Turner. “Frida is always moving about nearby and there’s Dali, my first friend, sitting in the corner twisting his moustache in conversation with Joseph Cornell. Mark Rothko and Pollock are pissing in the fireplace with Georgia O’Keefe. Paul Cadmus and Jared French and George Tooker are all naked after a swim in the ocean as they discuss the writings of EM Forster…” And his extensive list goes on to include Hitchcock, Hirst and Koons, but Ray says he needs to be excused to fetch some drinks with umbrellas in them, and some cocktail sausages.

Dreams and paralysis
Now you might be getting the picture about Ray. He’s incredibly imaginative, and if you read the biography on his website, you’ll discover his sense of humour as well. He claims to have been born a dog and the canine theme has permeated our interview too. He’s had a troubled relationship with his family at times, characterising them as a pack of wolves in which he was the omega – a lone wolf.
Amazing stories come to light when he talks of his family. Ray lost his mother and sister to cancer seven years ago. He began having powerful dreams, nightmares and visions. Ray has a condition called sleep paralysis which occurs in the hypnopompic (waking from sleep) or hypnagogic (falling asleep) states. It is little understood but also results in strange visions.
“I kept seeing my mother standing in my room with light pouring out the side of her face and her body was covered in lockets and brooches and fabrics of the things she loved in life. I had never seen pictures from her youth but in these visions she was a child and for some reason she kept thrusting her hand into my chest. She showed me galleries of work that looked like windows into another realm and very simply told me this was mine if I wanted it.”
Evidently, these visions have become a reality. Ray quit his job and began working as an artist. He may not so quickly acknowledge his own success, but will delve into the themes of his images with great humour. If you’ve thought his art is centred on female doll characters, for instance, there’s a twist. Beneath their clothing some are male, he says. “I just like to model dresses and I like to mix things up and I like to throw in a bit of taboo and a bit of humour and a bit of spirituality and a bit of the past and future, with a pinch of horror and a spoonful of kindness and possibly a soupçon of danger.”

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