My first "Tarot Painting" : Fool Under A Red Sky (2009)

My first "Tarot Painting" : Fool Under A Red Sky (2009)

The very first “tarot painting” I did, “Le Mat’, started back in 2007 with finishing touches added in 2012. I really had very little notion of the Tarot, let alone specifically TdM, but came from a fantasy-art approach. As a child growing up in London in the ‘80s I was obsessed with Tolkien and C.S Lewis, especially their descriptions of vast imaginary landscapes. My father was an antiques dealer in Portobello Road, there were always objects and trinkets in the house, with stories to tell. And at some point I developed a thing for collecting Jokers from ordinary packs of playing cards. With my school friends, we were into Jackson & Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series and D&D, and I was often drawing cards, like Top Trumps, to accompany the games. I never really got into regular card games though, always watched them from a distance (and tried to collect the Jokers).

At some point after moving to France round 2000, I became aware of “Le Mat” as Joker, and it was like a key started turning slowly in a lock. I’d spent 3 years living the vagabond life, and could identify with the image. I liked the idea that in his sack he might be carrying the other cards, or indeed the Universe itself. My other paintings often represented mythological scenes, or old dusty libraries, or underground scapes - I was looking for a figurative language to structure my work - and not without some initial resistance from my part, Le Mat from the TdM was right infront of me beckoning me into his World. A fellow from Girona took a liking to this first painting and acquired it in 2009. I felt very honoured as I knew he had considerable artistic and esoteric knowledge and is a free-mason. Over the next 5 years he commissioned me to complete the 22 major arcana, small format oil paintings, which became my first series “Tarot del Boig”, and thus obliged me to take the plunge into a world of whose nature I had previously only had notions. In hind-sight, I feel “Tarot del Boig” is extremely naive and derivative. I tried to combine elements of RW with TdM and Thoth and company with my untempered imaginiation and impatience, I wasn’t really studying the Tarot at all. Three or four of those paintings are OK in their own right , I guess, but feel I was trying too hard to be original, to make an impression. Completing this first series of paintings left me feeling briefly proud of myself, a feeling which gradually changed into gnawing frustration of having just scratched the surface of something, and that I would be a lazy charlatan to leave it at that.

My fiancée offered me Jodorowsky’s “La Voie du Tarot” and his deck. I got more disciplined into researching the tarot, especially in litterature. I started the second series of 22, the “Major Arcana Revisited”, as a way of researching and memorising the forms and colour fields. The series was completed over the 9 months of my fiancée’s pregnancy with a new-found discipline and rigeur. It was throughout the realisation of this series, a particularly intense time, that the awe-inspiring power of the architecture of the images revealed itself to me. It was very humbling, and in spite of feeling that I was abandonning any “originality” in my art, the more dominant feeling was one of pure grace, being at the service of something sacred. There are moments when you’re reproducing the TdM, especially in the preliminary sketches, when you’re completely befuddled by some slightly assymetrical detail which looked like it should be so simple, you feel like giving up. But there are also greater rewarding moments when things click into place and you feel like you’re part of solving the Universe - time stops between you and your canvas and you’re in a sublime meditative state, filling in colour fields and strengthening outlines, not seeing the hours go by. Our son, Nehuen, whose name means “LA FORCE” in the language of the Mapuche, was born 2 days after I finished that series, on October 6th 2014. Today he’s a bubbly precocious 3 yr old angel with a thing for lions. One of my many defaults as an artist - I try to throw too much into a painting - it gets over-crowded and I lose my technical objectivity, don’t know when to stop. This is one of the many things that painting the TdM using various techniques is helping me with, yes, that and the constant desire to be original, or worse, contemporary. I feel strongly that it is possible to be absolutely faithful to the traditional TdM form and brand new at the same time, in the same way a folk singer might interpret an ancient song, and bring out new unheard cadences through his or her interpretation. This for me is the creative magic of the TdM - it is like that anonymous folk song, it belongs to nobody and everybody, and each artistic interpretation, like each reading, will bring out new nuances and levels of meaning.

The third series “Arcanasia” is a larger set of acrylic paintings on canvas, made between 2015-2016. The idea was to situate the characters in a backdrop, to imagine a sort of country inhabited by the arcanes. I'd been inspired by photos I'd seen of Flornoy's larger-than-life arcane labyrinth exhibitions. The proportions are wider, allowing one to look around that corner, see that hand who’s turning the wheel ... While the series deviates back to the landscapes of the imaginary, it invites the spectator into its world, and does not compromise the forms of the characters. I found a certain continuity in the theme of the river which flows through many of the cards. I have had some wonderful surprise collaborations thanks to the tarot work. I was invited by a poet from La Rochelle, Pascal Fouquet, to illustrate his collection “Poèsie des Arcanes du Tarot Divinatoire”, and Serge Bureau, a tarologue from Montréal, Québec has created a range of scents and perfumes with the same series on the bottles, and will use "L'ETOILLE" for his next publication. Last year a theatre producer in Perpignan used most of “Arcanasia” as an installation for his play “Le Pendu”, based on Samuel Beckett. There might be a future collaboration with my vineyard boss (I work in the vines when not painting, making music or being a dad) - hoping to do some “Temperance” wine bottle labels. I had been thinking for the last year, with trepidation, about undergoing the minor arcana. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go there. Felt like there was so much, too much left to learn. After a wonderful meeting and discussion with Yves Reynaud the historian and restorer of TdM last October, which involved him acquiring the original La Lune and Le Mat from Arcanasia and me acquiring his extraordinary Payen deck, I felt the key turn a little more in that lock. I started work on the 4 As with more a sense of child-like discovery, revitalised, and content to take my time over the task. Just finished the four horsemen, the valets and all the kings and queens. For the moment, it’s simply called the “Tarot of the Work-in-Progress”.

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"Tarot del Boig"

Major Arcana Revisited

Tarot-In-Progress (november 2017 - )