Ray Caesar and Ugliness with Beauty

Recently I came across the works of Ray Caesar (feel free to check out his very nice web site from which I pulled these). I think the images are lovely: striking and rich palette and a painterly feel (as it happens, the images are produced digitally). The images are often of beautiful fantasy women, typically in romantic period costume and in luxurious, ornate settings…with deformities. Not deformities that actually happen to people, but like the one to the left: octopus-like tentacles. The combination of the beauty of the style, which suits the preconceptions of beauty we bring to glamorous women in Victorian costume, twists the ugliness of these unexpected, unnatural additions into an uncanny mix. In some of his more explicitly sexual works, there is the added odd charm of liscentious and uncanniness and beauty. The effect: disturbing.

Distrubing in a light way, the kind you never need think about twice. The uncanny, as a mix of ugliness and beauty, is ground mined during Romanticism and liscentious ugliness reared its serpent head in the works of Decadents. The mix of straight-laced Victorianism with alien qualities is nice, the skill of the graphics excellent, and the style beautiful. The dreamy Surrealism of Dali, as well as similar plasticine molding of form is “pretty,” as in attractive.

But what interest me is the use of prettyness and ugliness together. Does the style beaut-ify the ugliness depicted? Does Caeser succeed in making beautiful pictures of uncanny, ugly things? I think so. But I think that is the sum total of his charms, and there is much more to be said for ugliness in art. For example, can it be ugly, if it’s good art?

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