Tuesday 28 March 2017

Art in focus: 'The High Priestess'

'The High Priestess' is full of female intuition and is a powerful card of mystery, dreams and the subconscious mind. 'The High Priestess' has incredible knowledge, wondrous wisdom and a deep spirituality. 'The High Priestess' tells us to trust our dreams and the guidance which comes from within us, to look beyond the obvious and delve deeper into ourselves. In a Tarot reading this card can also indicate mystery and a future which may seem unclear and uncertain, but remain clam, at peace and all will become clear. 

The High Priestess's depictions vary from deck to deck, but many common attributes include being depicted as young, beautiful, mysterious, with hints of supernatural power and suggestions of magical knowledge. Often the imagery used ties in with the moon and twilight hours, heightening her mystery.
In the Raider White depiction, the High Priestess can be seen seated between the pillars of Solomon's temple. Many symbolic elements refer to to ancient myths and legends, such as Persephone and the pomegranate. Her headdress is the symbol of the triple goddess and upon her chest can be seen the solar cross, a symbol of balance. Her appearance is somewhat ritualistic and unusual, which creates a certain intrigue about who she is and what she does.

When designing my High Priestess I really wanted to convey the sense of mystery, the unknown and portray her as an alluring figure. She guards a mysterious world and holds the key to your inner potential. I wanted to show this clearly and let their viewer decide their reaction and emotions to this. Her posture is both alluring and unabashed, she has no shame or embarrassment. she is beckoning to the curious, that more lies within the temple if they are dedicated enough to explore. Reflecting on the finished card now I can see obvious influences in my depiction of the High Priestess herself, namely my beloved Hammer Horror films and interest in the occult. Robes, choice nudity, alluring women and mysterious occult/satanic ritual have all probably been subconsciously collected from films such as To the Devil a Daughter and The Devil Rides Out  (I'm a big Dennis Wheatley fan), and influenced the final imagery.
The headdress worn by the Priestess is influenced by the pagan symbols of the Triple Goddess and Horned God. The Triple Goddess represents the different stages of a woman's life; Maiden, Mother and Crone. The crescent moon represents the Maiden and the Crone, while the full moon represents the Mother. Another symbol which impacted on the design of the headdress was the imagery of the ancient Egyptian Goddess Isis, whom is closely linked with the High Priestess card. Her headdress (which was also the headdress of Hathor) had two horns (which looked remarkably like a crescent moon), holding the solar disc of the sun. These shapes are very natural and appear throughout many cultures, and seemed the perfect way to suggest the elevated status of the High Priestess and her mystery without affiliating her to any specific culture or faith.    
The temple itself has elements of Egyptian architecture, tying in with a lot of occult/mystical traditions and their ancient influences. The red drapes are the suggestion and temptation that within the pearly white of the temple lies ripe fruit, the inner potential and promise that the temple holds for the willing. A slight glimpse of light and shadow within the temple can be seen, hinting at its hidden depths, just like the minds hidden potential and complexity.

The High Priestess was one of the cards I was most looking forward to working on, as I had a clear idea of the atmosphere I wanted to convey and the symbolism of the card is some of my favourite. I really enjoyed creating my own interpretation of 'The High Priestess', as I feel it strongly reflects some of the aesthetics and themes which inspire me most in life.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Art in focus: 'The Empress'

In standard Tarot, 'The Empress' is one of two female archetypes, the other being 'The High Priestess', who represents the mysterious, Unknown side of female nature, while the Empress represents the 'other side' of female nature. Femininity, fertility, abundance, motherhood, and creativity are all associated with the Empress. She is the embodiment of Mother Nature following the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth and reminding us of the importance of nature in our lives.

In most depictions of 'The Empress' she is a strong, queen like figure. Originally in Marseille Tarot many aspects are akin to 'The Emperor', however as time has progressed many depictions have focused on the symbolism of 'The Empress' far more, drawing on her connections with nature and fertility, sometimes portraying her as with child, or as in Rider Waite a goddess like figure of nature, covered in and surrounded by imagery relating to harvest, fertility and abundance.

When designing my Empress quite quickly I had a clear idea about her concept and how I wanted to portray her. I really wanted to emphasise the connection between the Empress and nature, that they are totally at one and reinforce her 'Mother Nature' persona. The most logical and interesting way to do this (to my mind) was to directly connect the figure of the Empress to the earth. The landscape flows into her, and she into the landscape. They are seamlessly connected signifying their bond, unity and that her fertility is tied to the land. With this in mind I started to sketch my Empress, hair and dress flowing into the landscape, with no beginning or end. She is a goddess of nature and this is the powerful, bountiful, glorious image I wanted to portray. I also decided to place the empresses hands over her womb to signify fruitfulness and fertility. She is bare chested to express her bountiful body and nature. This also reinforces her strength of character and the natural form of her own body. Her dress/the fields, are blooming with flowers, again to reinforce her abundance and fruitfulness. The simple design of the flowers was inspired by the Simbelmynë from Tolkien's Middle Earth, which grew on the tombs of ancient ancestors in Rohan.
Most versions of The Empress feature a crown as a main element of the Empress, suggesting her status and importance. But I wanted my imagery to tie more with nature and its power than material wealth, so I chose to crown my Empress with Simbelmynë flowers and a wreath of leaves, reaffirming her status as the empress of the earth.
Her throne is of simple design and natural materials. The wood is solid and represents natures support, and the gold represents the sun and it's fertility, as well as a halo to elevate the spiritual status of the Empress.
The distant mountains, which are not connected to the Empress directly, but are part of her world and the landscape of her life are related to the Emperor card, which is connected closely and follows the same theme of emanating from the earth, as the Emperor erupts from the distant mountains, strong and hard.

I enjoyed developing 'The Empress' and portraying a very different image of women to 'The High Priestess', though I know which category I fall into!

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Art in focus: 'The Hanged Man'

'The Hanged Man' is the ultimate symbol of self sacrifice and surrender. With this card comes total suspension of action, patience is a virtue and 'The Hanged Man' indicates the need to wait as long as you can if you hope for the best outcome. 'The Hanged Man' represents willingness to wait to achieve your ultimate goal, to act selflessly and sacrifice the immediate for the greater good.

In Tarot decks 'The Hanged Man' is not represented as the name may suggest. You you'd be forgiven for conjuring up the image of a man with a noose around his neck at the gallows. However, the deep symbolism of the card is linked with being a willing martyr, not receiving punishment. The typical imagery of the card is largely unchanged since the time of the Marseille Tarot. A man is suspended from a tree by his foot. It is implied by both the symbolism and the imagery that this 'hanging' is voluntary. Many Tarot maintain this basic imagery, along with the posture of the man, with his hands behind his back, and one leg behind the other forming a triangle.

When designing my 'Hanged Man', there were long deliberations and ponderings as to its design. I did not want to confuse the symbolism of the card by hanging my man from a gibbet (even though the imagery appealed to me, and the gibbet is a recurring element within the series). So I took an entirely different approach with my final design and represented my 'Hanged Man' in a very different way.
I wanted to emphasize the idea that the man is willing in his actions and the choice is his own. I tried to give him a relaxed posture and a serene, calm expression, almost that of meditation. His sacrifice is to the universe, and the natural order of things. His oneness and connection with nature is represented both by his nudity, and by the ivy which suspends him. It shows a mutual trust between the man and the universe, it supports him and suspends him and he in turn offers himself  as martyr for the greater good. The ivy which is at one with the man is beginning to flower, representing that patience has fruition and the universe will reward the man for his sacrifice.
I purposely wanted the man and his action to be the focus of the card. The trees within the piece set the scene and show that the man is surrounded by nature and supported by the world. The canopy or roots of the trees cannot be seen, suggesting that the trees themselves are infinite, and in theory the risk the man takes is higher (because of the height of the tree), yet it also implies the incredible level of his trust and faith.  
Visually 'The Hanged Man' is one of the simpler cards in my Major Acarna, yet the symbolism and message behind the artwork is one of the deepest; trust the universe and its plan for you, don't be afraid to stand still, breathe and wait for the time to be right. The here and now may seem important, but never lose sight of the bigger picture. 

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Art in Focus: 'Death'

'Death' is famously the most feared card to crop up in a Tarot reading. But its not all doom and gloom when it comes to the actual meaning of 'Death' in Tarot. 'Death' signifies change, something in your life is coming to a close and as one phase ends a new beginning can bring renewed energy to your life. The transition your about to undergo should be embraced and welcomed as a positive transformation in your life. 'Death' teaches us to move forward with our life, progress positively and treasure the gift of renewal. 'Death' is not only the end, but also the beginning ...

In Tarot decks 'Death' like 'The Devil', has a great many depictions. Once again, this is something which is deeply rooted in most cultures, societies and religions. As something we all must face, every culture has a different viewpoint on death and the messages surrounding it. Death is something we all have a highly personal opinion on, depending on specific beliefs this can differ vastly from individual to individual. I believe that this is the reason there are so many artistic interpretations of death. There are so many personal viewpoints and traditions surrounding death, he wears many masks.
Death itself is viewed by many with great fear and terror, which is presumably the reason many of the depictions of 'Death' are so negative and full of fear, though some can see death as the inevitable course of life, and just something which will happen as part of natures course.

When designing my 'Death' card I wanted to draw inspiration from lots of traditional depictions of death. I wanted to maintain the traditional 'grim reaper' approach of many Tarot, but also incorporate a lot of artistic symbolism with close ties to death. My 'carcass collector' character is not given any elevated status or power, he is a skeleton and is not intended to be threatening, though the simple image of a skeleton tends to conjure up fear and threat naturally. The thing which sets him apart from the other dead is his scythe, which I liked the idea that he is literally harvesting the dead and collecting them. He roams the earth eternally in search of the dead. I chose to depict him in an ancient dilapidated graveyard which has all but eroded away. In the distance different perspectives of death are portrayed; a hanging tree, with a noose, as reference to death as release or relief, and to the right, a gibbet, as reference to death as punishment. The various different paths represent the different journeys we all take from the beginning to the end of our lives. In the foreground some unearthed bones can be seen. A crown has fallen from the brow of a skull. The long dead king reminds us that status is no protection from death, and however powerful, you cannot avoid the inevitable. Sitting happily atop the kings skull is a Barn Owl. Traditionally in art symbolism Owls were harbingers of death, and can be seen on many ancient religious paintings bearing ill fate and doom.
I wanted the sky to reflect the true message of 'Death' as a Tarot card. A new day is just dawning. The warmth of the sun is just beginning to creep into the sky and a new beginning is here. Death is not only the end, but also the beginning ...