Tuesday 30 May 2017

Art in focus: 'The Fool'

'The Fool' is the ultimate card of new beginnings, innocence and potential. Numbered zero in most decks The Fool signifies the beginning of the journey through the Major Acarna, which represents the journey of life and the paths we all must chose between. The fool is care free, innocent and at the beginning of his creative potential. He is blind to the future and lives in the now. In a reading The Fool can represent a new beginning or journey and stepping out into the unknown, taking a leap of faith or that there may be choices laid before you. The Fool's lesson is to trust your heart and follow it, however ridiculous it may seem, trust the universe and its plan for you.

Traditionally in Tarot 'The Fool' is portrayed as a court jester-esque, clueless looking figure, often with torn trousers and a small dog biting at his behind. A common theme is the impression that 'the fool' is walking blindly, about to fall from a precipice. He often carries a staff or walking stick and a bindle (a sack containing his possessions - a la puss in boots). This suggests that the Fool is on a journey and carries with him his entire world.  In Rider-Waite many of these common themes remain, however the Fool appears far more carefree and flamboyant in appearance. Added symbolism also includes a white rose, symbolising his innocence and purity, and the rising sun represents new beginnings. The Rider-Waite interpretation gives far less of an impression of mockery than some other decks, and portrays the Fool in quite a positive light, closely reflecting the meaning of the card.

When designing my Fool I had two had two concept directions which I considered approaching from; that of a court jester style fool or that of a wildman style innocent. I decided to go with the latter idea, as I felt it had a lot of scope to be developed into an interesting piece differing from most interpretations, and I liked the idea that it also had suggestions of the beginnings of the human race and our early innocence and potential.
I chose to loosely base the portrayal of my Fool on the stereotypical caveman. Clothed only in fur, it suggests that his material possessions are few, they are of the earth, found by him and are only used out of necessity. It also hints at inexperience and naivety, as he has no provisions for his journey through life (represented by the mountains), and no protection from the elements the universe may throw at him. If he is to survive he must adapt. His staff, is danger hidden in plain sight. Though it may appear to him to be of no concern, it is in fact the form of a snake, ready to strike and turn upon him and his ignorance to danger. The Fool steps forward unconcerned, he is blind to the dangers of the world and the pitfalls of life, with his eyes firmly closed he does not see the drop at his feet, or the beauty of the sunset behind him.
As the first card in the deck 'The Fool' ties in many recurring elements within my Tarot series. The mountains often used to represent life's journey, a difficult path, power or danger. The river flows through may of my Tarot, also symbolising the flow of life and its path. These two elements also represent the masculine phallic and the female fertile symbols. The crow, a feature of the series not only because he is my favourite bird, but because throughout history he had been used to represent death, wisdom and knowledge. In the case of 'The Fool' the crows part has to perspectives; he is the guardian through the Major Acarna. A protector and a guide always at hand to whisper his council and timeless wisdom in mans ear. Or the alternative view, as a carrion bird, he follows the Fool, waiting for him to make his error of judgement and fall to his doom. He uses his wits and wisdom to wait silently in the wings for an easy meal from the carefree Fool.

As my last Tarot Art in Focus post, I would like to take the time to thank anybody who has read any of these insights. It has been quite an interesting, often therapeutic experience to explain the thought processes and in depth symbolism behind my Tarot series. The series was a huge undertaking, not just in the creation of the pieces (155 hours work), but also in the research required and the time working on concepts (none of which was timed), and I hope that these posts have reflected this. My artwork is an eclectic mash of all the things which make me who I am; films I love, books I've read, people I know, things I think, and I hope that somewhere among the 22 posts of rambling detail and nonsense, that this could be seen.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Art in focus: 'Temperance'

In Tarot 'Temperance' is all about moderation, peace, tranquility and balance. You are on a path in life where you can see the bigger picture, surround yourself with a calm atmosphere and influences and the right choices will be clear. You have taken a middle of the road path in life and maintaining a Balanced perspective and avoiding extremes is the right approach for you. Patience is your greatest ally, remain calm, meditate, and the answer will come from within you.

Traditionally 'Temperance' is depicted as an Angel, pouring water from one jug to another, half on land and half in water. These basic themes are maintained in many different Tarot decks dating from Marseille Tarot to present day. They represent finding a balance in life and mixing the opposites to achieve that balance and avoid extremes. The Rider-Waite 'Temperance' largely follows the traditional imagery, with the usual addition of details which enrich the symbolism. The Angel is actually a hermaphrodite, representing the balance between genders, and the land represents the material world and water the subconscious, which they are attempting to find balance between. The jugs have been exchanged for cups, presumably to relate more closely to the Tarot suits, but largely the cards basis remains the same as it originally was.

Initially I really struggled to think outside of the box when it came to Temperance. No matter what quirky approach I took or unusual angle I tried to take the design in, it just wasn't developing. I took an in depth look at the symbolism and messages of the card and focused my thoughts around these points to eventually move forward with my design.
I decided to progress initially with the idea of tranquility, meditation and peace. I imagined a landscape which fitted this; a pool with tranquil waters, lush green grass and a calm sky. I also included a path, a recurring element in many of my Tarot which represents the journey through the Major Acarna. My figure is placed in the middle of the path, representing her middle of the road, balanced approach in life. Many representations of Temperance show the main figure half on land half in water to represent balance, but I couldn't imagine a way of achieving this without the posture looking awkward and forced. So I thought the most tranquil thing for my figure to be doing was bathing her feet in the water, while sitting on land. I felt that achieved a sort of balance between land and water, in a less obvious way. The figure, eyes closed, meditates in her place of calm and quiet. Her dress flows out onto the meadow where she is free and relaxed. In each hand she holds a cup (referring back to the Tarot suits) and is pouring red wine from one into the pool, while the pools purity flows into the other, defying the laws of the universe and hinting at her power and spirituality. The rejection of the wine and welcoming of the water represents her path of moderation and balance to which she has dedicated her very life.

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.'

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Art in focus: 'The Emperor'

'The Emperor' represents the ultimate father figure. He is the head of the family and a strong authority figure. With his wisdom and experience he forms a solid basis for a strong line, passing on his knowledge and guidance to those who will come once he has gone. He is a natural Leader and demands respect and obedience, for he is not afraid to use his power or force. In a reading this card tells us to let our head rule our heart. Be your own master and maintain your concentration and control. You are heading for success and recognition in your life, and like the Emperor will be a strong, dominant force in the world.

Generally, 'The Emperor' is depicted as the archetypal 'wise old ruler'. In Marseille Tarot he is shown as a white haired man, crowned, leaning casually against his throne, holding aloft a sceptre, with his shield by his side. The imagery is littered with symbols of power and rule. In the Rider-Waite deck the imagery is largely similar to ancient examples, with any additions bringing a little more grandeur and authority to the scene. Such as barren mountains, an Ankh representing life, and armour demonstrating strength and war.

I wanted my Emperor to emanate authority, wisdom and experience. When working on my initial sketches I quickly decided to take the same approach as with the Empress, to have him erupting from the very earth, made of the stuff of mountains, reflecting his solid strength and deep roots within his land. His robe and the mountains cannot be differentiated, suggesting that he is at one with the world. This relationship is reaffirmed as he holds the Earth in the palm of his hand, showing his strength and importance in the grand scheme of things. His thrones arched shape echoes the harsh peaks of the distant mountains. It is hewn from living rock, a bright white stone high in his lofty place of power. Carved rams and rubies adorn the throne, a connection with the sign of Aries which he represents. The three eyed Ram also adorns his shield, which represents defense and protection. The sword partly obscured by the mountain/his robes symbolises the Emperors past as a conqueror, and his time in the battlefield. His time on the front line has now passed as he rules from on high, yet he is not afraid to rule with might, or return to the ways of war to protect his land.
The spilling of blood is signified by the blood red sky and his throne. Power, glory and lives have afforded the Emperor his position, and while he does not take it for granted, he believes it is his right.
His expression is stern, representing his hard line approach to life and his hair is showing signs of greying, representing the wisdom of his years and the experiences behind him. I thought often of Théoden King when working on my depiction of 'The Emperor' as this was in many ways the type of character I was attempting to portray. 

In many ways my depiction of 'The Emperor' has numerous elements originating back to those of early Tarot. I approached this card in quite a traditional way, with a few added twists and elements which I thought would emphasise the message of the card in the desired way. I'm reasonably happy that I managed to get across the figure I imagined the Emperor to be, as Conan said of his great god Crom; 'Strong in his Mountain.' who knows only too well the Riddle of Steel.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Art in Focus: 'Justice'

The 'Justice' card is one of balance, truth, fairness and ultimately justice itself. In a reading 'Justice' encourages your actions and reactions to be fair, well balanced and objective. Your choices have long term consequences, be mindful of this and behave accordingly. Eventually we will all be judged and held accountable for our actions past and present, so remember, you reap what you sow. A balanced approach is possible, trust your intuition and the truth within you.

Justice is another example of card which has changed little in its imagery, it has merely been updated and embellished over time. One element which I think has changed significantly however; in the Marseille deck the figure appears to be winged, suggesting that the figure of justice is probably an Angel. Possibly Saint Michael judging your heart and weighing your soul with his scales. But in later translations the wings appear to have become a throne, possibly a mistranslation of the image at some stage or a wish to move away from religious imagery.
In the Rider-Waite deck the significant change was the numbering of the Tarot. This was changed compared to that of early/original decks and 'Justice' went from 7 to 11, to tie in more with astrology and represent Libra. Symbolism in the Rider-Waite depiction connects to well ordered thoughts, fairness and law. She holds a double edged sword representing impartiality and scales; representing balanced thoughts and the balance between intuition and logic. The imagery is simple and one of the least complex of the Rider-Waite deck.

Before even beginning my Tarot works I made the early decision to revert back to the original numbering of more ancient decks. I was eager to return to the traditional roots of the numbering and honour its history. The decision was largely one of gut intuition and simply what I felt to be right for my deck.
'Justice' was the last Tarot I began work on, my early ideas for it deviated little from its traditional imagery; simple, honest piece with a clear message and symbolism. This is essentially the approach I went with in the end, choosing not to attempt to over complicate and overthink the piece, I just went with what felt natural.
It was of course unavoidable that eventually my beloved third eye would make an appearance in the series somewhere. And I must admit I feel that I was very restrained in saving it till last. 'Justice' was the one card that really cried out for the symbolism of the third eye, she sees all, the past, the present, the future and crucially; the truth.
She holds perfectly balanced scales, representing fairness, objectivity, balanced thoughts and decisions. Justice judges you fairly and appropriately according to your own actions.
The sword by her hand is ready to deliver justice and punishment as she sees fit. Her hand is resting upon the sword ready to strike, reminding us that the consequences of our actions are never far away.
She is seated on a plain, honest throne, reflecting her own honesty and simplicity, yet the fact she has a throne at all elevates her above the norm in knowledge, intuition and her supernatural gift. The steps also serve as a tool to elevate her. Like the magician, her surroundings are simple and uncomplicated by lavish decoration. The two windows and their external view serve as a reminder of the power and potential consequences of justice. The new dawn brings positivity, reward and renewed vitality. Through the other window a gibbet looms on the horizon telling the viewer no ill deed goes unpunished in the balance of the universe.