Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Art in focus: 'The Hierophant'

'The Hierophant' is all about tradition, conformity, religion and fixed values. The Hierophant himself represents a spiritual mentor and guide, he has wisdom to impart, and knowledge to share, but you must be willing to access it on his terms. You need to take a conservative approach and conform to the rules already in place, there is an accepted approach and 'The Hierophant' advises you to adhere to it. In a Tarot reading the card has a number of different messages; that you need to embrace tradition and an orthodox approach, you are about to experience a period of learning, you need to adapt to the rules and beliefs already in place or you may be dealing with an institution with fixed ideals not about to embrace innovation or individuality. 

Traditionally the imagery of 'The Hierophant' strongly reflects organised religion, in particular Christian worship. Early decks also referred to 'The Hierophant' as 'The Pope', depicting an image of the Pope with his 3 tiered crown, staff and followers kneeling at his feet as his hand raised in benediction to god. Many decks still follow this basic imagery, however, the card is arguably the most Christian of all cards in tone, which has led to the card having a number of different interpretations and name changes over the years, including 'The High Priest', 'Chiron' and 'Shaman'. These variations in interpretation presumably reflect the artists/designers desire to move away from Christian imagery in their deck.

When designing my Hierophant a lot of thought and consideration went into how to approach the piece. I didn't want to blindly draw a re-imagining of the pope, the direction of this piece really seemed to matter. It's no secret that I'm no real lover of organised religion, and I felt the imagery should probably reflect my critical view, yet still needed to maintain the message of the card. Eventually I came to a solution with a design with multiple meanings depending on your viewpoint.
From one perspective the figure of 'The Hierophant' is a monk, preaching to his sheep which literally represent his 'flock'. They stand in awe of his message. He holds a book which represents knowledge and learning. This obviously represents religion as a traditional hierarchical structure. The goat in the background represents the rejection of a conservative, orthodox approach, and essentially represents myself. The phrase 'Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell' sparked the idea initially (which is actually a Cake song but I was first exposed to via an episode of The X-Files).
From another perspective, he is a raving madman rambling to the animals at pasture. The sheep look at him with curious confusion, yet blindly follow him without questioning why. The goat is totally indifferent to him and distances itself, not wishing to associate itself. I suppose the second interpretation follows my own viewpoint far more. My critical opinion on faith taught from the cradle to the grave when I feel people should follow their own path in life and respond to their own feelings and experiences instead of acting as sheep.

On reflection this was the one card where I didn't quite manage to restrain myself from rebelling and incorporating a very personal, and often unpopular viewpoint. This personal belief itself largely shaped the card, and I did question if it was the right approach, but this is my artwork and should reflect me and my ideals, otherwise what is the point? I vowed not to be censored any more a long time ago, so the worst thing I could do is censor myself. Though I did purposely make the imagery open to interpretation based entirely on the subjective, personal opinion of the viewer. But in the eyes of most; 'Sheep go to Heaven, Goats go to Hell.'


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