“I don't see myself as an artist,” says Ray Caesar. “I make pictures.”
Toronto-based Caesar may not consider himself an artist, but his 30-piece solo show, “A Dangerous Inclination,” proves otherwise. It opened to a large crowd on Saturday night at Culver City's Corey Helford Gallery with several pieces sold prior to the event. His digital work has won fans for its sublime painterly quality and heavy, sometimes disturbing details as well as his knack for creating images that belong to no particular period of time.
Caesar works with Maya, a 3D animation software used for shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and movies like Monsters vs. Aliens, to create still images that don't necessarily look 3D. With the software, he can create gorgeous textures, like animal fur and lace trim. More importantly, though, he can work with 3D models to create his characters. He can pose them in different ways, move their arms and legs, as though they are articulated dolls.
“I'm still playing with dolls,” he says.
Caesar has dissociative identity disorder (DID), which he says resulted from a “traumatic” childhood. DID (oftentimes referred to as multiple personalities) is a coping mechanism, often triggered by severe, repeated trauma. Caesar talks about this without hesitation and explains it in easily understandable terms. Everybody, he says, has different personalities (“who you are with your mom isn't who you are in your professional life”). He adds that everybody dissociates to an extent — for example, when you're working on a creative project and hit a point where you're working without thinking or keeping track of time. When you have DID, he says, these things become far more pronounced.
Caesar dissociated parts of his personality “into dolls, into furniture, into inanimate objects.” He describes these periods of dissociation as an “extended daydream.” He says that he doesn't suffer from “missing time,” or memory lapses, the way some people with DID do. Instead, he has large periods of what he calls “wasted time.”
Though Caesar still has DID, he says he can manage it, and part of that is because of the pictures he creates. The 3D models are like the dolls he had as a child. They store Caesar's painful memories, but, at the same time, he can transform them into beautiful images.
“I can build all the things I wanted as a kid,” he says.
Caesar's pictures are also inspired by his work at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. During his 17 years there, he worked heavily on computers. He did things like develop games for children with brain damage and, during that time, he saw not only children who had been seriously injured, but children whose injuries were the results of severe abuse.
In the late 1990s, Caesar left the hospital and went to work in film and television as an animator. He was nominated for an Outstanding Special Effects Emmy for his work on Total Recall 2070 and also worked on Stargate.
As an adult, after both his mother and sister died of cancer, he says that he was plagued by “strange dreams” and sleep paralysis. His career as an artist developed in part from that experience and now, just days away from his 53rd birthday, his first solo show for Corey Helford Gallery displays a collection that he says he has been working on for his entire life.