I often answer this question naming the artists I love but if I were to truly think about it I would have to answer that the basis of my inspiration is with Time... the past, the present moment, and the fluidity of the future.
The past has to be my first top inspiration, as learning from what has been created before is a part of the fabric of my mind. I keep struggling to make myself more aware of my own memory and what I think of as a collective memory of all culture. There is the past of Visual Art that for me is wonderful and all that came before "Now" is inspiration.
The present moment is fleeting...full of immediate emotion, reaction and intuition. I have struggled with it in the past and I am slowly learning that the present moment too has its own form of inspiration that continually slips into the past and becomes nostalgia. I can lose myself in the present moment and just let it happen, and that’s the source of true inspiration.
The fluidity of the future is a sea of endless possibilities. The possibilities form themselves into probabilities...knowing one can change and re-invent aspects of our own way of thinking. The ability to change for the future is only a moment away. I love the erratic energy of the unknown, to let a hand do something with a pencil before the mind knows what is going to happen...that too is inspiring.Q: What is your biggest challenge personally as it pertains to making your work?
It’s such a slow process that I sometimes find it overwhelming to complete certain pieces. My mind wants to create more quickly but reality keeps me grounded by letting me know it takes time. I also seem to reach a point of difficulty in each and every piece I work on...I have found this to be a repetitive and constant occurrence that began decades ago - I reach the midway point in creating a work, then I lose a bit of faith...or the reality of the work starts to challenge the vague notion of what I thought the work was going to be. I work to overcome this point of difficulty but it sometimes overtakes me and the work ends up being abandoned. It’s a huge challenge, but I keep the work in mind or at least in a sketchbook which is like an external memory. I often return to these discarded ideas sometimes years later.Q: What is the significance of the predominately female figure in your work, the spider like legs or many legs of an octopus? Why do you find yourself drawn to them and why are they a recurring theme in your work?
I used to dress as a girl quite often as a child and teenager, and I believe it became a kind of an alter ego. I used to look at myself in a large ornate wood framed mirror in my parents’ bedroom and knew I would one day make pictures of what I saw reflected back to me from the other side of my mind. I was quite a dangerous little child in many ways as I was growing up in an extremely difficult and violent environment that I call a family of wolves. I carried knives and other sharp objects and at a certain age began to stab anyone who hurt me. I also identified with dogs and their sharp teeth; cats with their sharp nails; and other feral animals, especially nocturnal animals as I began to personify parts of myself as one of them. I love animals dearly and developed empathy for them which grew over the years into the best part of who I am. I believe there was a very acute division between who I was at any particular time and I began to get lost in a deep world of daydreams and paracosms. Years later it was diagnosed as Dissociative Identity Disorder but in my mind it was a way to balance the masculine and feminine and the deep dichotomy of civilized and primitive aspects we all carry within our subconscious mind.
My father was a very difficult and violent man but the only person he was afraid of was my mother, and it is she who represents the Spider in my work. She was ferocious, and in many ways I identified with that aspect of her in order to protect myself. My mother wasn’t afraid of anything! She literally had no concept of fear and also no concept of empathy. She was very small and thin, being only 5 feet tall, so looked somewhat like a child herself. She died in my arms in a hospital, and soon afterwards I had repeated visions and visitations for many years. I still struggle with fits of sleep paralysis and bizarre lucid dreams and I always become aware of when she is about as I can smell her cigarette that was rarely away from her lips. The dreams and visitations lasted so long and were of such intensity that I was literally going to the doctor and telling him I was being haunted or I was going mad... I often ended up in the emergency room when things got too intense. It resulted in years of panic attacks and psychotherapy but at the same time it had this wonderful aspect that enabled me to show my work in a gallery for the very first time, which was something I was afraid to do for close to three decades. In death my mother was relentless until I allowed others to see my work. She is the spider whose web crossed from this world into the next world. She is the feral cat with sharp claws sitting on top of the wardrobe in the attic of my mind. As in life she is dangerous but a protective part of who I am. I choose to neither believe nor disbelieve in what happens when she visits. I just wonder about it and that wonder becomes Art and I suppose I just think of it as her final gift.
The tentacles and twisted limbs are a reflection of my father who was a victim of crippling child hood arthritis and whose feet were very deformed. I remember as a child in the 1960s, of taking off his shoes and soaking his twisted feet after he came home from work in horrible pain. It was quite a difficult time as the pain also made him very angry and often quite violent. As a child I thought people must be very different under their clothes and that was also a metaphor for being very different in their mind under their skin as though they wore a mask. I used to think my father was a demon and that his feet were hoven... I still believe there is a certain truth to that and it made me aware of the demon and angel that lived in him, and in me, and that lives in each and every one of us.Q: How has your art contributed to society? Do you think it's important that art gives something to society?
I cannot function if I try to think about my work being anything other than for my own need and pleasure...my work is a form of self indulgence. That being said I do think any creative endeavor is not only good for society but one of the root necessities of society. I believe science and technology sit on the foundation of creative thought and our need to make something new from an emotional thought or concept has always existed. You cannot be creative in science and technology without art as it is the root to visualize the creative image in one’s mind. The first cave paintings in Altamira used a tool as the extension of the hand and used pictures to form communication of action and emotion, and to tell a story without words. Words are just sounds that originate from pictures. Our minds think in terms of pictures and we have the ability to visualize a creation before it becomes a reality. That to me is the basis of Art... to see something in the virtual environment of our mind’s eye and bring that thought into the real world. Art is a very pure expression of that process, it is an expression of what makes us human in its purest form and is an emotion or a concept made into reality.Q: What causes artistic blocks? What do you do to solve them?
First, I don’t think of them as "artistic blocks" but more as a fundamental part of the creative process. I have learnt to love them when they happen and not fear them as they are an important part of how things are made in one’s mind. They teach us patience and to slow down, and I think of them as part of the mystery of what the piece wants to become. I have learned to adapt and adjust "what I thought was going to be" into "what happens now". The work keeps changing and evolving, and that to me is exciting, as anything can happen and whatever course it takes, it’s going to surprise me. The work comes alive and says "No, I don’t want this, I want to change” and the piece develops its own voice as it literally speaks to you.
Sometimes it helps to chew through the problem with rationality and thought, and other times it’s best to let go of thought and express your intuitive moment by moment action of letting the hand do something first before the minds knows what’s happening. Other times it’s good to see a block as a turning point where you have the option of taking many roads and must decide on a given direction. Sometimes it’s best to do nothing and put the problem away for a while.
One thing for sure is that you must trust your intuition and expand your ability to be intuitive. There has to be a delicate balance of reserve and fearlessness, and of apprehension and action. Sometimes something has to be lost and it can feel like cutting off a limb, whereas other times something needs to be added. Sometimes you have to give up on what you want and go down an unfamiliar road, and that’s when I sit up and pay attention as I see the excitement of doing something in a totally new way. I can come back to particular ideas year after year moving them about in a fluid manner until they make a choice to evolve into what they want to be. I think not in terms of days or weeks or months when I create... I think in terms of years, and if a piece want to take its time then who am I to rush it. I remove me...my ego...I see the work with empathy and as an entity in itself from its point of view, and let it evolve and become what it wants to be.Q: In the past two decades who do you believe has made the biggest impact in the art world, artist, collector, philanthropist or otherwise?
The internet has had a powerful effect and I have personally seen it change my world as an artist. The ability to share images across the digital realm has been a fundamental shift for artist as well as collectors, and has exposed the full range of culture and generations of art that was not very accessible 25 years ago. Now we can all collect art even if that collection is digital. But without content, the internet is nothing! So it still comes down to that person who by whatever means, wants to communicate something in an image or performance or object that will be seen by others. The more people create, the more other people want to see... the more other people want to see the more other people create. The internet as modern media is a vehicle to propagate that perpetual motion. I love making digital art as it fits the digital realm in which I present it, as more people see my work as a digital expression than seeing it in a gallery.Q: How important do you think it is for artists to know about art history, and why?
I can’t really speak for other artists but for me it’s a wonderful part of why I make art. I love the idea that an image can speak an emotion that travels through centuries. To feel the emotion of what the artist felt as he or she created a piece is like hearing the words of a ghost from the past whispering into your very soul. To be able to walk in a museum and face a 300 year old painting, to be astonished and have that work engulf you is profoundly spiritual. It is a direct communication from a ghost that is long dead that makes you feel what it felt when it was alive. When I look at a tiny painting by Antoine Watteau I feel his delicate passion, his pain and sadness, his love and joy... I feel his soul is talking to me and me alone.Q: What's your process? How do you go about starting a piece and then deciding when it’s finished?
First, I sketch and draw in public places where I feel a buzz of energy. I sift through my memories with deft fingertips looking for an emotional chord. At some point I switch to a virtual 3D environment in a software called Maya and what begins is more similar to sculpture rather than painting, it is more like working on a theatrical stage set... and a story begins to unfold. I build and pose my model, add texture and lighting, and view the gradually forming image in many variations from different angles. I hide various items in the 3D environment inside other objects, and add my skin as well as my wife's skin to the virtual dolls I create. In some ways there is a voodoo quality to the life that I breathe into the figures and I think of it as a mystical method. This process becomes an almost subconscious one that is very intuitive and the work tells me when it is done and not the other way around. When I actually print the image onto paper, I finally get a sense that I have taken that thing which began as a feeling or emotion and see it become part of reality.
The final result is a print using ink on paper. As I look back through my life, ink and paper have played a great part of who I am, and when I combine those ingredients with thought, memory and emotion they all seem to come together. As a child I had a huge newspaper route and delivered hundreds of newspapers daily to peoples’ homes. I was constantly covered in ink over my skin and clothes, so much that I could never really wash it off. My bed sheets were also covered in ink. As an escape, I found refuge in books of paper and ink... books with stories and beautiful pictures that became windows into another world... a paracosm that I began to build in my mind. I made pictures with paper and ink so that I can build windows into my very soul, and from that place I found more raw materials in which to make more pictures.Q: French Fries or Beet Salad with Feta Cheese?
Ha, the Beet Salad for sure... French Fries aren’t even an option. I eat one or two just to judge quality and flavour to give my culinary opinion but I exist only because of good healthy food which provides my fuel and vital energy. Give me an avocado, some olive oil and a vine ripened tomato with a pinch of sea salt and pepper... a few garden herbs and a glass of red wine, let’s say a Shiraz and I will show you a piece of Heaven. No deep fried potato in saturated fat would stand a chance!Q: What would you like to be remembered for?
Being one a few people born in the 1950s who miraculously managed to live into the 22nd century when they eventually solved the problem of death, hair loss and weight management. I would walk (or hover in antigravity boots) down the street and people would say "That guy actually lived in the 20th century!”. I would be on a lot of talk shows and smash a lot of champagne bottles over newly commissioned starships... that’s what I would love to be remembered for.Q: If an artist could do your portrait which who would it be?
Frank AuerbachQ: Who would you love to have tea with?
Audry HepburnQ: Favorite movie of all time?
Persuasion 1995, based on the Jane Austen novel with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root. I have watched this movie close to 40 or 50 times and I have loved it as much as the first time I saw it.Q: What is the misconception that people have of you?
I think they are generally under the misconception that I believe they exist...I don't actually believe anyone else exists but I just "wonder" whether they exist or not. In other words, I am just unsure of their existence. I am giving great weight to the theory that everyone and everything might be a figment of my imagination and I might be a floating consciousness, all alone in a non-universe of non-existence, and all this thing called "existence" is just me whistling in the dark pretending someone else is there. There is also the ironic possibility that these other people are under the misconception that I exist when it's quite reasonable that I am merely a figment of their imagination. Perhaps I only think that I exist when in actuality I don't. I hope they don't take it personally though as I hate hurting anyone's feelings even if they or I don't exist!Q: What do you have for breakfast?
I usually start with an atrocious amount of fiber with Greek yogurt and blueberries, then avocado on whole grain toast, then I have a very tiny amount...two small bites...of a fresh baked apple cinnamon muffin with a huge mug of black coffee.Q: What is the first thing you thought about this morning?
Why isn't the sun up yet and how pretty the world looks when it's foggy and that I better get my dog outside before we have a repeat of the fiasco of the morning before and why is that lady standing in the corner with light coming out of the top side of her head.Q: What is the best part of living in Toronto, Canada?
That there is actually an end to winter.
Read Gallery House’s interview with Ray Caesar.