Interview with Ray Caesar

Interview with Ray Caesar by Bareknuckle Poet

From The Archive
Ray, thank you for taking the time for this interview. For those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be making art for a living.

Well! I started out going to school and working as a architect then somehow got into medical graphics and later in life worked for several years in animation and special effects. In between all that I have done questionable things like the time I sold pantyhose as a sideline business and a serious attempt at becoming a MUFON investigator ( Mutual UFO Network ). I spent 17 years working in a Children’s hospital and I suppose that’s why I am making these images today. I saw so much in that place that I can hardly talk or think about it without becoming emotional. I hated making art for so many years, It never occurred to me to show it in a gallery and I didn’t even want to put it up on my own wall. The act of making it was not pleasant but for some reason it was an obsession. I made a valiant attempt to quit and was doing quite well when My mother, Sister passed away from Cancer a few years ago. Now I had always had strange dreams and used to talk to people who apparently weren’t there when I was a kid but all that started happening again especially after the death of my Mother. She was always a bit strange and if anyone could find a way to come back and scare the shit out of me she was the one to do it. Anyway I started making pictures again and contacted a gallery for the first time on a whim. Now I am making art for a living…I guess my Mom was right after all…trust her to have the last word.

As those familiar with you and your work know, you were born a dog – what was it like for a dog at art school, and today, do you experience any ill treatment for being a dog in the often ‘dog eat dog’ world of the creative arts? Have you been bitten?

Yes! I was born in the year of the dog, 1958 in South London, my family was exiled from England for displeasing the Royal family.
Art school was a long time ago for me and all I do remember is that it didn’t go to well…all I can remember is that there were a lot of “Hippies” and that it is dangerous to run while wearing bellbottoms. The “Dog eat Dog” world of art certainly applies to the film industry, I worked for a some years in Special Effects for film and TV and I never saw such a cut throat business full of some rather crazy aggressive people whom I still love…I had a really good time though and recommend it as a career choice to anyone.

I have bitten more than I have been bitten but then who hasn’t bitten or been bitten, Its not the bite but the bark that scares me…bites heal but words stay with you.

Let me ask you about the image – Companion – which is one of the first pictures one is confronted with when visiting your website. Is the flea huge or is the girl tiny?

I think they are just the right size…parasites need love too and we need their love…the piece for me is about guilt and how we feed it and nourish it and keep it with us always…I like to play “Fetch” with guilt as its fun to see it run away and come back. Guilt feeds of the very eccence of us and there is a bond of unconditional love that is hard to break.

What or who in the history of art would you describe as a major influence on your creative outlook?

It all began at age 7 when I got a book by Dali, I had never seen anything like it but his work reminded me of something…even at 7 I knew there was this other place…a distant familiar place but strange. I used to sleep with that book under my pillow…in retrospect that may not have been a good idea. I love the French Genre art of the 18th century and of all the art books I have, these are surrounding me as I work, I read them before going to bed. Boucher, Fragonard, Perronnau and Chardin, Drouais, Watteau. I also love the Pin up art of Vargas and the early American realists like George Tooker and Paul Cadmus but I have to say I love the work of Joseph Cornell, he is just fine.

Art aside the biggest influence would have to be working in The Hospital for Sick Children. Its the sole reason I am making art because without those kids I wouldn’t need any of the artists above to influence me. I live my dreams everyday for those that didn’t get a chance to live theirs…to do otherwise would be a sin. Unfortunately I created that just after the death of my Sister Jackie. She struggled for a long year with cancer and I saw the effect this disease had on everyone who loved her. My wife Jane works in a Cancer hospital as a Oncology pharmacist dealing with new study drugs and as we grow older more friends and friends of friends that are affected by this disease find Jane to be a source of knowledge and comfort. I suppose I see my wife who is such a gentle kind person always having to deal with loss or comforting someone who is facing what can only be there biggest and final challenge. Its not a easy life for her and I see the burden she bears as part of who she is…I have been nominated for awards and have got to walk down red carpets but the people like my wife who’s work and kindness bring hope and comfort…well where are the red carpets for them?- One of my favorite Caesar images is The Burden of Her Memories – can you please explain what caused you to dream up such a repugnant and beautiful thing?

I suppose in “Burden of her Memories” I tried to manifest the feeling that comes with weight of unbearable things, we have all had that feeling or will eventually…Its also my favorite piece too.

To me your paintings are like old world future jetsons robots with weird alien heads and weedy brass bed limbs and I love them – how would you describe your art to someone who has not seen it?

People think I paint pictures of children…I don’t! I paint pictures of the human soul…that alluring image of the hidden part of ourselves…some call them ghosts or spirits but I see them as the image of who we truly are, made manifest with all the objects and bruises that filled the story of each life. Like a wonderful old book you find that captures you with the mystery of the main character you read the beginning and fall under its spell and become unaware of the real nature of reality because you are absorbed by the story till its end. I figure that’s what life is and if you cherished a piece of music or an old jewelry box or favorite chair they become part of your soul just as you leave a part of yourself in those objects when you leave this world…next time your in an antique shop ..quiet your mind and you will hear all the voices embedded in all of those old things…you will hear them singing to you.

You make no secret of your methodology, fronting straight up about creating your paintings digitally on your website. Also on this page you touch on the subject of mathematical probability and allude to the idea that perhaps ‘reality’ may not be so different to space on a hard drive. Can you tell us a bit more about your philosophical ideas and how they potentially manifest in your art?
Talbot also writes about University of London physicist David Bohm, for example, he believes Aspect’s findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. Working independently in the field of brain research, Standford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram has also become persuaded of the holographic nature of reality. Pribram was drawn to the holographic model by the puzzle of how and where memories are stored in the brain. For decades numerous studies have shown that rather than being confined to a specific location, memories are dispersed throughout the brain. Then in the 1960s Pribram encountered the concept of holography and realized he had found the explanation brain scientists had been looking for. Pribram believes memories are encoded not in neurons, or small groupings of neurons, but in patterns of nerve impulses that crisscross the entire brain in the same way that patterns of laser light interference crisscross the entire area of a piece of film containing a holographic image. In other words, Pribram believes the brain is itself a hologram. Who Knows…its probably best to just live and have some fun…we will all find out this shit soon enough…Michael Talbot knows cos he’s now dead.I will take a bit of liberty here from Michael Talbot who wrote “Holographic Universe” he writes about how Alan Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them. It doesn’t matter whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart. I have heard recently that scientists are exploring this in the design of computers. “Using modern quantum physics, scientists have determined that mysterious light particles could behave in a manner that smashes conventional roadblocks in the way of creating much more powerful computer parts. ” a fairly recent article I am sure the chaps at CNN have something on this.

– How did you make art before 3D modelling technology came along?

Oils, acrylic, sculpture, airbrush, ink, photography …its all good..the making of images and objects. I used the first 3d stuff about 17 years ago on a teeny weenie mac with a teeny tiny monitor. Personally I love the challenge of making art with something as coldly technical as a computer, something so many people hate. I still think traditional methods haven’t been fully explored and still love moving paint on canvas or a pencil on paper…Its all good. I say the best response to all the destruction in this world is to create, use anything and everything, but just create…I love a Child’s drawing as much as I love a painting by a great master, they both contain a vibrant energy of creative hope. Whether on a computer or on a cave wall, the making of images is a form of communication that allows the artist to express their love, their sense of beauty, passion or rage. I am proud of the long tradition I come from of image makers…Its all good.

In your bio you speak of having attained award nominations for your work in film and television, can you tell us a little more about your experience as a creative artist working in major media?

I worked for GVFX in Toronto for some years as a senior 3D guy and occasionally had to clean up the kitchen because they told me I often left it in a mess. I did a lot of character work and animated digital matt paintings and washed a lot of dishes with a big yellow sponge. I got nominated for an Emmy and a Gemini and Monitor awards for a strange little show called “Total Recall 2070″ in which I designed, modeled and animated flythroughs of a future Philip K Dyck Blade runnerish Cities. It was a lot of fun because I worked nights and no one could tell me what to do and in the morning they just looked at what I made during the night and said OK! lets use that. I also worked on the TV series of Stargate and Relic Hunter. Cheesy Sci Fi shows are the best to work on as low budgets give you a level of freedom you will never see in the big houses.

I didn’t win the Emmy as Star Trek did but I did get to wear a cummerbund and drink scotch in a limo and spoke to Charles Nelson Riley in the Men’s room of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Ray, again, thank you very much for your time.


Ray Caesar
© Images copyright Ray Caesar
© Interview copyright Brentley Frazer

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This is a reprint from the archives – originally published by Retort Magazine July 2004.
Archived by The National Library of Australia