Interview With Ray Caesar
By Adam Szrotek & Sylwia Banasiak
Please, tell us how you started your adventure with doing art?
I drew pictures and sculpted in placticene as a child. I remember creating dioramas with my sisters dolls and using tinfoil to reshape parts of their bodies. I have very fond memories of sitting alone in a room with an assortment of materials and tools like hard paper from packs of my Mothers stockings and twisting the paper and using a stapler and tape to create some very strange constructions. I had a massive collection of grey plasticene and remember creating a thick skin of this material to cover a soccer ball that became a "head of Frankenstein" and then took old clothes and stuffed them with newspaper to create the body and left the life-size form lying on my bed.... I went out to deliver my newspapers and when I came home my Father was so angry as he came home and went in my room and thought I was dead........ I thought that was funny but he didn't. I kept doing things like this and 45 years later it occurred to me that it might be what some considered to be "Art". I still don't see what I do as "Art" ... I just see it as what I love to do.
Were you creative in pre-computer era? If so, do you have any works from that time?
I spent most of my life in a pre-computer era as I am close to 50 now .......... I have works and sketchbooks and diaries in many mediums such as oil, acrylic, ink and sculptural pieces in various materials ...some tucked away .... some destroyed and some hanging around the house. Most are quite small and quite personal. I never wanted to sell these works so I don't really show them as they are more like a personal diary or structure to the events of the conscious and sub-conscious aspects of my life. Most of the themes I have repeated for years and eventually show up in my current work.
Do you think you would be successful without computer?
I don't really measure success that way ....... peaceful creativity is its own success....... causing destruction and pain to others is failure. I have worked in some form of creative profession all my life with and without a computer. I just see it as a medium to create the images in my head that have been there festering since my first attempts at making pictures or objects as a child. I believe all attempts at creating are good and that success in life comes from the attempt and not the result. I think the drive to create makes us use tools at hand ...... I can draw and paint and sculpt just as well as I do on a computer .... because if I couldn't ... I wouldn't be able to do it on a computer either. Anyone who thinks they can create better images on a computer rather than with other tools just doesn't know how to use the other tools. The pictures come from a place within... the tools bring the pictures out.
We know you worked at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Tell us more about this job.
I worked in a photographic department and I worked as a medical artist for 17 years ... which meant I created a wide range of graphics, information and teaching material and exhibits. Our department documented all manner of things that took place in what is one of the largest children's hospitals in the world. You tend to see a lot in this kind of job as one day you might be printing images of child abuse or the next day sifting through the wires and tubes keeping a premature infant alive to create a technical diagram for nurses to use as a teaching tool. You might work with a neurosurgeon to create an animation of the cryogenic removal of a brain tumor or walking the hallways of a research lab to create a published diagram of insulin packs used on a research animal.
Why did you stop working there? How emotionally difficult was it for you?
Like a lot of hospital workers I thought I had seen it all and thought I had pretty much built a fine tuned armor against the injustices of man and nature ... but that eventually proved to be wrong as one day I saw a series of forensic images that knocked me to my knees ... I left soon after that I suppose as those images challenged me to start another journey. Perhaps I began to understand the emotional power within a single image. Children's hospitals and hospitals in general are sometimes places of sadness.... but also places of tireless miracles that are a testament to the fine people who work to end the suffering of others.
It is obvious that in your works there is a lot of loneliness of suffering; will this ever end?
I don't see it that way ......... there is certainly the visual cues to loneliness and suffering but I am much too much of an optimist to let that be all there is. I see my figures as calm ... I see them without fear, with a secret knowing and even humor. I think they are happy and they are challenging us to see them as they are! without flinching... to see them without our own fear. Where some see loneliness I see calm serenity........ where some see suffering or pain I see unique knowledge tried by fire and the call to all to overcome and share that suffering. The ability to embrace difference and not be afraid of it. like a small heaven of my own making for some wizened spirit residing in the hidden rooms of my memory......... perhaps in this heaven its not what we see ... but how we choose to see it.
Do you think life is more "real" when accompanied by pain?
No! I don't. I think more about the pain of others ......... empathy is what is important to me and the removal of hate within myself in all its forms and to replace that hate with love and kind understanding. I believe we need to evolve more empathy in our species ...... to not be paralyzed by fear and not allow that fear to cause hate. I think we need to observe the things that people endure and acknowledge that our observation of their suffering should encourage us to approach our fears with calm resolve. To be able to look at difference and not turn away in pity or revulsion or fear. I believe we are all very different in our minds eye than what we appear in a mirror. Try closing your eyes and feel the unique shape of your sensual spiritual self and you might be surprised. Everyday I try to rise above those challenges of pain and fear and hate and make the attempt to "overcome"....... I believe that is what I saw in that children's hospital all those years ago ... from the sick children, the worried loving parents, to the doctors and surgeons and nurses... I saw the shear tireless human will to "overcome" adversity. I think that is what makes life more "real".
Where did you learn to use 3D software?
I have been using it for about 10 years and its just been a gradual process of jumping hurdles and getting to know it well enough to use it without having to think about it.
I am still learning it and always will be as its not a static tool .. its changing everyday.
Many point out that 3D modeling fails at reflecting the reality. How do you feel about it?
I use it to create my work so I suppose I feel fine about it. I am pretty sure it not a single conventional reality I am reflecting......... is a "dream" or an "emotional feeling" a reality or an illusion? ... I am trying to reflect an emotional subconscious reality, a mood or feeling that I cant put into words so I make an three dimensional model and image instead. I use this tool because I love the endless possibilities not just of what it can do but what this tool can become.
What part of the creative process do you find the most difficult? Is there anything, in your opinion that you would like to improve?
Fighting back against my own negativity and allowing myself to create without fear. I work at this every single day.
When you work on the face, do you have a certain person on your mind?
My self and my wife Jane.... I actually try to model a face that is a combination of our faces and our skin textures. I see much of my work as a self portrait of both of us as children.... we have been together for over 30 years ... I met her when I was 15. The images are also reflections of my mother and sister who appeared as children to me after they died.
How long does it usually take to make one piece?
I don't usually think of time as I work ... I haven't worn a watch for years and I have a reputation for not knowing what month or year it is. I suppose it can be anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to 3 months.
Is your art cathartic to you?
In some ways I am digging up and purging some raw material from my past, my subconscious and dreamworlds but there is also a feeling of "building" and "creating" something. The pleasure doesn't come from getting rid of ... or purging a thing! but making something with all that raw material. Making something I can see... that I can touch and turn and examine.... give life too! Thats the need or drive to my work..... it sort of has a Frankenstein quality about it doesn't it?
Do you remember your last dream?
I always remember my dreams..... every single detail. last night I was in an amazing chamber or building with large open windows to an ancient city at night... it was in Biblical times ... possibly Egypt or Jerusalem ... I was a priest in some kind of robe and remember walking through the dark halls of this magnificent building .... I came to a room and I was examining an amulet of twisted heart flesh shaped like a Ankh that was tied with string ... it was sitting in a stone bowl in a shallow puddle of blood..... something told me I had made this amulet. I remember that because I woke screaming and my wife turned over in bed and said .... "for crying out loud Ray! ... do you always have to scream like that when you dream?" There is a deep subconscious part of myself that is telling me stories every night as I sleep and I love to listen to those stories..... even if they are a teeny bit frightening.
Interviewed by Adam Szrotek & Sylwia Banasiak