‘The Menagerie Within’ is an exhibition of contemporary surrealism with the work of two artists: Beth Carter and Ray Caesar.
Ray Caesar’s images present doll-like figures dressed up in dreamlike environments. His scenes are like part of a vast country estate, chambers of an unending eccentric mansion or secret corners of magical gardens, with narratives that are obscure and uncertain. All of Ray’s works are digitally generated and depict a highly detailed imaginary world where there is a deep enjoyment in the fetishistic quality of materials: latex, metal, fabric and paint all glisten with a peculiar lustre. Everyday accoutrements are similarly imbued with symbolic potency: pipes, hangers, paintwork and plastics all gain an erotic charge. The unusual contraptions his figures interact with recall how unintelligible the world can appear to the dreaming or childlike mind. Echoes of childhood and an air of nostalgia then overlap with art historical references. A masked doll with a record player on her back echoes the compositions of Vermeer. Another in a metallic mask, the formal portraits of the early Modern era. Away in the garden, the ferryman Charon from Greek myth is reimagined as drawing a chariot through a fantastical electric garden. The past becomes fantasy in Ray’s surreal world, where every element is plump with latent symbolic meaning.
Beth Carter’s sculptures present a menagerie of characters wandering the channels of the unconscious. Children dressing as animals; men becoming minotaurs; beings in differing states of zoomorphic transformation… There is a strong sense of play combined with an exploration of how animal instincts feed into fun and experimentation. The works in this exhibition present new editions in bronze and a group of unique figures in jesmonite plaster that have been many years in development. In bronze is a boy in a dunce cap cradling a fledgling unicorn in his lap, and a standing man as a minotaur, paused in a moment of uncertainty. In plaster are figures part person, part animal whose true nature is unclear. A naked man becoming a bunny. A clothed figure with a fox’s head. A man with a horse’s head tries to grapple with his own reins, while another wears a beak and wings. More clearly human figures stumble around in the dark, already succumbing to a process of transformation. One child wears a set of bunny ears, eyes closed, dreaming. Together, Beth’s figures seem part of a circus that has lost its way and drifted apart, disappearing down the rabbit hole of humanity’s animal instincts.