Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Ray Caesar's Haunted Beauty

During the month of October, we have been featuring artwork from the exhibition at Florida State University's Museum of Fine Arts entitled Cute and Creepy.  The exhibition runs from October 14 through November 20, and we would encourage you to visit it in person if you are in the Talahassee area.  So far we've featured the work of Kelly Boehmer and Carrie Anne Baade, the curator of the exhibit; today's feature focuses on the work of Ray Caesar.

Ray Caesar, Descent, 2008
The best thing about Henry James’s Turn of the Screw is that those children, Miles and Flora, really don’t seem like children—ever. They’re beings that discomfit the governess’s sense of self and what she calls reality. I think that Ray Caesar’s “children” do much of the same. They exist in the slipstream between here and there, while their eyes tell us they are still fully present, watching us watching them. Take for instance, Caesar’s work Descent, which presents us with an ageless beauty floating downward in an abyss. With a Lovecraftian twist of weirdness, her torso is a blend of petticoats and Cthulhu-like tentacles, paradoxically making her appear all the more vulnerable. On the sea floor lay sharp objects that threaten to impale the young heroine: upside down chairs, a baby carriage, sewing machine, and birdcage. Yet she is the one bearing the light which scatters the darkness; her gaze, serene, commanding, imperious, even, despite the pain she is about to endure.

And most of Caesars’s children are portrayed this way—in between ages and genders, between fantasy and the reality we know kids even today endure: abuse, sickness, sexualization and isolation. There is no fear in the eyes of his little girls. They are powerful princesses who refuse to become part of the Disney variety, nor do they belong in the world of the Brothers Grimm (I fear for the wolf who would try to gobble up one of these lovelies). Some are steampunk goddesses or insect limbed, misshapen and beautiful at the same time. Others have a gaze that demands answers I’m not sure any of us have. Working as a medical artist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for sixteen years must have given Caesar an eye for the invisible worlds that the infirmed live in—that in some ways, we all live in (for who among us has not been broken in spirit or body?). In that sense, his work doesn’t merely ask us to imagine a world that protects its children, but also to celebrate a world where sadness and evil are fought with redemptive imagination. It’s magic of the very best kind.

Image credit Gallery House/Ray Caesar.  Used with permission.