MOTHERS, MONSTERS AND MACHINES ___ Postmodernism, narrations, deformity and scars in the artwork of Ray Caesar
Ray Caesar is considered one of the key-man of Pop Surrealism. This label, on one hand, fits like a glove, but on the other hand doesn’t fulfill the range of his poetics. Expecially the most used synonym for Pop Surrealism, Lowbrow Art, is not compatible with the highly learned references of Caesar’s work.
His quotations range from the putative father of Surrealism, Salvator Dalì, with his swarming ants, crouches and drawers improperly placed on bodies, to Flemish masters, in the hyper-real and adamantine treatment of surfaces, and in the sparkling saturation of basic colours.
Then there is the symbolic bestiario of the Gothic Era, with toads, spiders, insects, ravens, fishes and butterflies (Blessed). We also have flowery tapestries of Biedermeier (Wallflowers, Blessed, Sleeping by day), monumental sky-lines of the Thirthies skyscreepers (The healing light, Incognito), and Fifties design (Oh Hally Lou, Trouble child).
Even the figurative taxonomy of his dolls has aesthetic roots in the history of arts, inspiring with the blonds of Cranach and their cruel almond-shaped eyes, the algid and beautiful models of Fouquet, and the dark-haired ladies with unkept eyebrows of Frida Kahlo’s portraits. The iconsphere of Caesar incorporates even the history of cinema, quoting the ice-skating with mutilation scene of In the cut, in The hall of ages, the surgery tools with biodroid lines of Cronenberg, the Universal horror with Bride, and the rococò interior design of the sidereal room beyond Jupiter in 2001 Space Odyssey. If on one hand Ceasar’s Surrealism is undeniable, for his strong oneiric dimension and the polymorphous erotism of his children-models, Pop Art influence is not recognizable in his work. Caesar doesn’t represent commodities, neither mass-society icons.
But however he has some features which place him in the Pop-Surrealism movement: the bewitched lost childhood dimension, given by childlike features of his subjects, the fairy tale atmosphere, and the narrative quality of his works, emphasized by evocative titles, which open up the pictures on transversal meaning horizons. In fact his last exhibition at the Lonsdale Gallery of Toronto is entitled The Tales We Tell. The attention for diversity is central in low-browers’ poetics, and we can also find it in the bearded woman of The Waiting Wife, in the thoughtful and metaphisical hydro-cephalous of The Burden of Her Memories, in the numerous-legged freak of The Widow’s Tea Party, as well as in the romanticized biography of the artist, in which he asserts that he was born half-child and half-dog, and supports this theory with photos in Nineteenth-century daguerrotypes style.
The bodies represented by Caesar are often slashed by scars, as the tatooed young girl of Blessed, blessed by caesarean section or a foetal removal, or the throbbing Bride, waked up by electric jump spark: she seems to have been undergo a chemiotherapy, and her head is attached to the body with flashy suture stitches.
The interest for scars and paramedical equipments reflects the decennial working experience made by Caesar at the Children’s Hospital of Toronto, during which he learned a lot about “cruelties of Man and Nature, but also that Miracles do exist and are often the product of our own actions” . Also the attention for the interior part of bodies arises from the hospital practice. Caesar’s bodies often loose their traditional opaque texture, and show their contents, in transparency, as the Queen of Flies, who displays her exploding cardiac muscle, the dark haired lady of Manifestation, with her lymphatic system in sight, the graceful and mutant damsel of Prelude, the skinned freak exposed in a votive aedicule of Silent Whispers.
These bodies have been subjected to mutations which reveal themselves expecially in limbs, in the tentacular hands, of liquid nature, more evolved, more malleable, more slippy of those of the current species, and also more ferocius, finely adorned talon-hands. The body often hybrids with the machine, roundish machinery to explore the abysses or Méliès’ moon, china prosthesis, engraved limbs half organic half artificial.
In the last series In the Garden Of Moonlight, which have been displayed lately in Paris at the Magda Danysz Gallery, Caesar represents some feminine figures who are spinning. they are swallowing the yarn around their monstrous prosthesis. Metatron, a human being transformed in an angel of flame according to the Qabbalah of Hekhalot, becomes a huge mechanical crab spinning a red yarn with its black paws, managed (controlled) by a Fifties young lady.
In Descent a damsel trapped in a crinoline from the Eighteenth Century is floating like a jellyfish towards the ceiling of an overflown theatre, so that it is possible to see the outgrowth of tentacles beneath her skirts. In Mourning Glory there is a girl sleeping in a Rococò room, and in the meanwhile her legs are flitting in the air, maybe for effect of her dream. She has pinced her hair to avoid to take off her, as if her hair would be butterflies in a reliquary. But maybe she is a vampire, because she is sleeping with her hands crossed on the breast, her lips are red as blood, and she has the same hairstyle of Dracula in Coppola’s movie. Another creature of the night is the bat-girl dressed in a robe à la francaise of Day-Break. A bit Cinderella, a bit the White Rabbit, for her pocket-watch, she is catch in her crucial moment of terror. Which effects would the light have on her? Will she survive, or is she going to dissolve like a moth attracted by the fire?
If art means creation of virtual worlds, therefore Caesar is a great master. Besides the power of his subliminal narrations, and the mimetical effect of his textures, there is many, many more. Almost a revolution. Because his way of working breaks down the picture-window, inwards. Since Caesar uses a 3-D animation software, the result we see is given by a subtraction process. The original pieces have practicable enviroments, and is possible to turn around the figures as if they are statues. But can’t see them: the original pieces are locked up in the mathematical dimension of the soft-ware, behind a hidden door, in the secret room of Caesar’s computer.
Published on SuccoAcido April the 7th, 2009
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