The Major Arcana by Jak Flash

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The Fool.

I’d like this photo series by young British photographer Jak Flash even if it didn’t feature attractive men; the eye candy is icing on a thaumaturgic cake. The Major Arcana takes the Trumps of the Tarot as its inspiration and manages to reinterpret the symbolism whilst retaining the hieratic nature of the traditional images. Of his reworking, the photographer says:

I developed my own themes based around things like geometric shapes so that I could encode my images with meaning. The images link to each other and can be read to some extent almost as a progressive story, or commentary. Various signifiers are used throughout the images such as cubes, triangles and spheres to help communicate my ideas. Cubes for example are a representation of the material world and triangles show transition. In an image such as The Hanged Man we see two men firmly seated on a large cube, whilst above their heads another cube breaks apart around them. … The Lovers image is an interpretation of the fall of man from Eden. The man represents mankind in his fall after taking the fruit of Knowledge, whilst being denied eternal life. (More.)

The Major Arcana is available in book form at Blurb. Via Homotography, doing all the leg work once again.

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top left: The Lovers; top right: Justice.
bottom left: The Wheel of Fortune; bottom right: The Sun.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Sapphire Museum of Magic and Occultism
Strange Attractor Salon
The art of Pamela Colman Smith, 1878–1951
Layered Orders: Crowley’s Thoth Deck and the Tarot
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
The Major Arcana

The Sapphire Museum of Magic and Occultism

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Cover design by Pamela Colman Smith for The Tarot of the Bohemians by “Papus” aka Gérard Encausse (1910).

The Sapphire Museum of Magic and Occultism says it’s been around since 1999 but I don’t recall having come across it before. Among a variety of fascinating rarities is this gallery section devoted to some of the less well-known illustrators of occult or occult-related books from the late 19th and early 20th century. Included there are two substantial galleries of work by Pamela Colman Smith, artist of the world’s most popular Tarot deck. Many of the scans are high-quality and, like the pictures at Golden Age Comic Book Stories, seem to be taken from the original printings. A great site.

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top left: WT Horton; top right: Cecil French.
bottom left: Althea Gyles; bottom right: M Bergson MacGregor.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet
The art of Julien Champagne, 1877–1932
The art of Pamela Colman Smith, 1878–1951
The art of Andrey Avinoff, 1884–1949
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995
Austin Osman Spare

Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet

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Another chance find at the Internet Archive. This small book from 1913 is an appraisal of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes written by noted actress Ellen Terry and with illustrations—which Archive.org doesn’t mention—by Pamela Colman Smith, an artist whose Tarot designs are some of the most successful ever created yet who received little credit for her work while she was alive. It’s a shame that the Internet Archive perpetuates this state of affairs despite her name on the book’s title page. This is a fascinating set of ink sketches all of which are marked by the distinctive monogram familiar from her Tarot cards. One of the drawings in the book is also marked by an obscene doodle; I’ll leave it to the curious to discover which one.

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Continue reading “Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet”

The art of Julien Champagne, 1877–1932

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An obscure occult artist even among catalogues of obscure occult artists, Julien Champagne (also listed as Jean-Julian) is known principally for his associations with the persistently elusive 20th century alchemist Fulcanelli. Champagne provided a frontispiece (below) for Fulcanelli’s examination of architectural symbolism, Le Mystère des Cathédrales (1926), and is continually rumoured to have been Fulcanelli himself. Whatever the solution to that mystery, the alchemist’s book is rather more visible than the artist’s distinctly Symbolist paintings. There’s a French blog devoted to his life and works here but little else around. I wouldn’t mind seeing a decent online gallery of his pictures at some point.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Digital alchemy
The art of Pamela Colman Smith, 1878–1951
The art of Andrey Avinoff, 1884–1949
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995
Austin Osman Spare

The art of Pamela Colman Smith, 1878–1951

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Following yesterday’s post about Frieda Harris’s Tarot designs, it only seems right to acknowledge the other major Tarot artist of the 20th century. Pamela Colman Smith has been overshadowed by her male mentor, Golden Dawn scholar AE Waite, even more than Frieda Harris whose name at least gets mentioned as much as Crowley’s in discussion of her paintings. US Games lists Smith and Waite’s so-called Rider-Waite Tarot of 1909 as “the world’s most popular tarot deck” and uses a silhouette of Smith’s design for The Fool as the company logo, yet it was years before I saw a credit for Smith as artist of this deck, her personal presence being reduced to a tiny monogram in the corner of each picture.

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The Absurd ABC by Walter Crane (1874).

I’ve often thought of Smith’s deck as “the Art Nouveau Tarot” which it isn’t really—it’s more late Victorian in style, if anything—but it was created when Art Nouveau was at its height and has some of the character of the poster art of the period. Smith’s designs are incredibly striking in places, with the clarity of drawn archetypes, and her style possibly owes something to the books Walter Crane created for children in the 1870s and 1880s; the clean lines and bright colouring are very similar. In that respect, Smith’s deck might be more fittingly labelled “the Arts and Crafts Tarot.”

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left: Pamela Colman Smith’s Hermit; right: Barrington Colby’s inner sleeve for Led Zeppelin IV.

Pamela Colman Smith also worked as a book illustrator but her other work is overshadowed completely by the popularity of the Rider-Waite cards. Her design for The Hermit was famously borrowed by Crowley obsessive Jimmy Page in 1971 for an inner sleeve illustration, View in Half or Varying Light by Barrington Colby, for Led Zeppelin IV. That use alone makes it possibly the most famous Tarot card in history (there was even a statue made of it for the now defunct Hard Rock Park Led Zeppelin roller coaster) but I doubt many people familiar with the image could name the original artist.

Happily, Ms Smith’s obscurity is gradually diminishing. US Games recently produced the Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative set for the 100th anniversary of the Rider-Waite deck, a package featuring a book of her artwork (including non-Tarot drawings), prints, postcards and a reprinted set of cards. A long overdue reappraisal but, as is always the case, it’s better late than never.

Mary K Greer’s Tarot blog has some excellent postings devoted to Pamela Colman Smith including this page which gathers links to sites containing further information about the artist’s life and work.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Layered Orders: Crowley’s Thoth Deck and the Tarot
William Rimmer’s Evening Swan Song
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995