Stepping into a haunted rabbit hole
Much like judging a book by its cover, one should never take art at face value. It may be difficult to work past personal dislike or a lack of comprehension but to dig a little deeper reveals levels of detail and complexity that, while not immediately obvious, make a substantial change to the way we perceive the work.
This could most certainly be applied to the work of Ray Caesar, a British born artist who creates fascinating 3D modeled characters within fairytale and dreamlike landscapes. Visiting the artist's website, it is clear that Ray has always had an incredibly vivid imagination and art for storytelling. Unlike most ‘about’ pages, Caesar's page feels as if you are being given a real glimpse into the early life and mind of the artist. A mind which has always been, it would seem, working on a very different plane of existence to most of the people around him.
To do what I said one must not, we would look at these images firstly from their face value as they certainly surface some interesting thoughts and feelings. The aesthetic of Caesar's work is predominately one of a fairy tale mixed with Victorian painting where the subjects are set before beach scenes or within elaborately decorated interiors. This is mirrored in the incredibly white pallor of the girls that are depicted, which reminds the viewer of the time period where looking porcelain white was to show your higher class lifestyle away from the muck and mire of the working men and women. Alongside the features of the subjects are the clothing and attire which, for the most part, are period pieces. Long ballgowns and evening dresses as well as period underclothes and ruffles. With this description alone the reader could be easily mistaken for thinking that I was simply referring to works by the old masters such as Antony Van Dyck or Jean-Antoine Watteau (later claimed as his inspiration). However, this would be only a part truth, these old masters may have been an inspiration for the art style of the artist but that is where the similarities finish.
The visions of tentacles and animalistic traits appear in many of the pieces by Caesar and alongside the influences and the period conveyed in the work, do draw the mind to the work of H. P Lovecraft. Now regarded as one of the most significant authors of the 20th Century, Lovecraft created fantastical horror fiction into which he wound themes on race, inherited guilt and the threat of a scientific era. Set against a back drop of a similar time period to that portrayed by Ceasar, we see humans with fish-like features and dark ancient gods with reaching tentacles much like the characters Caesar depicts with tentacles replacing legs, fingers and hands. They both draw upon the horror quality of a warped humanity.
Throughout Caesar's work, there is an overwhelming disquiet coming across, everything is not as it would appear in these creations. The subjects that Ray Caesar forms appear as young girls but they are dressed as adults, often in adult situations or poses. In this, there is an underlying feeling of these subjects being oddly sexualised, to an extent that the viewer can feel uncomfortable viewing the images. Whilst not knowing the age of the characters that are modelled, they possess such childlike features and small forms that the viewer cannot escape the feeling that they are looking at children. Unsettled as such, the images could be seen as exploitative in nature. This, however, is where the adult life of the artist begins to reveal a deep and emotionally charged reasoning for the aesthetic of the pieces. From 1980 till 1997 Ray Caesar worked in the Art and Photography Department of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. This job brought the artist face to face with instances of child abuse, child psychology, and surgical reconstruction, as well as animal research, all of which had a profound effect upon the artist. Being exposed to terminally ill children and being in a position to merely observe, whilst your job entails producing statistical data and technical diagrams of the medical equipment keeping the children alive, it is far more understandable how any human could be thusly affected.
This knowledge of the artist brings his work into a fresh light and the viewer can look with a different perspective. The deformities and abnormalities of the subjects point towards the surgical reconstructions or children suffering from diseases and perhaps the sexualization draws on witnessing the after-effects of abuse towards children. Having the childlike renditions in such provocative clothing and poses draws a sharp discussion point, that it is un-natural and grotesque to see sexuality in such seemingly young girls. An innocence that has been lost or stolen by the gaze or actions of others.
The work of Ray Caesar will definitely divide opinion, on the surface the pieces are technically, incredibly impressive. To create such refined 3D forms side by side with the dreamlike backgrounds is truly amazing to see. Delve deeper into these pieces and they begin to show the disturbing and slightly sinister nature that runs as an undercurrent through the artists work. Questions are raised and debates form as to the what and why. One steps in the rabbit hole that is the mindscape of the artist and can easily become lost in seeking the knowledge to understand but like many works of great art that answer is never concrete. It sets thoughts running and captivates our inquisitive minds.
A little tainted, a little melancholy, a little funny, a little sad and a little taboo… I mix this with clocks and scissors and irons and knives and silk dresses hiding strange things underneath.
By: Thomas Jukes