New things for September

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top: The Highbury Working, The Lucid View.
bottom: Manchester District Music Archive design, The Major Arcana.

As mentioned last month, I’ve updated and expanded all my CafePress shops which means you can now (should you wish) buy T-shirts, posters, mousepads and other goods from selected artwork. Look for links on the relevant artwork pages. In addition, I’ve added four new shops featuring the pieces shown above; some of the Major Arcana designs are also available individually.

Lastly, CafePress have expanded their range of calendars to include vertical format which means I’ve been able to make three different calendars this year. Calendars proved popular when I did one a couple of years ago but the horizontal format wasn’t very amenable to most of my artwork.

There’ll be more CafePress updates later this month, if time allows.

The Major Arcana

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Tarot designs proliferate at a seemingly unstoppable pace (you can see a selection of them here) so it’s probably fair to say that the world doesn’t need more of them. However, most modern designs are pastiches or fantasy-oriented works that tend towards an elaboration even more baroque than some of the older designs. My As Above, So Below poster was an earlier attempt at presenting traditional occult schematics in a modern setting. The challenge with this Tarot design was to try and create a Major Arcana set using nothing but international symbol pictograms or dingbat sets. It succeeds for the most part although I had to cheat a couple of times (creating a light bulb from scratch, for instance) and it’s debatable how recognisable these cards would be without their labels. I was following the Aleister Crowley scheme that renames a few of the cards, and some of his designs, especially The Aeon which replaces The Last Judgment, are rather resistant to simplification.

I would have uploaded this to a new CafePress shop as a poster design but their servers don’t seem to like my big jpegs just now. Maybe later.

Update: It finally uploaded. This is the shop.

Surrealist cartomancy

ubu.gifReworking the illustrations of the standard fifty-two card playing deck has become quite a common thing in recent years with numerous themed decks being produced in costly limited editions. The same goes for decks of Tarot cards which have now been mapped across a number of different magical systems and produced in sets that often add little to the philosophy of the Tarot but merely vary the artwork. This wasn’t always the case, and certainly not in the 1940s when André Breton and a group of fellow Surrealists produced designs for a fascinating deck of cards that hybridises the Tarot and the more mundane pack of playing cards in an attempt to create something new.

The Jeu de Marseilles was named after the city of its creation, and it’s no coincidence that one of the most well-known medieval Tarot designs is the Marseilles deck. Breton and his artist friends—Wifredo Lam, Max Ernst, Jacqueline Lamba, Oscar Dominguez, Victor Brauner, Jacques Hérold, André Masson and Frédéric Delanglade—were stranded in the French port along with many other artists, writers and intellectuals attempting to escape Nazi-occupied Europe and gain passage to the America. The creation of the card deck became a way of passing the time during several months of anxious waiting.

Typically for a group that had already spent a decade analysing and deconstructing all available artistic media, it wasn’t enough to merely redecorate an existing pack of cards, Breton wanted a thorough reinvention along Surrealist principles. So the traditional suits were renamed accordingly: Flames (red) for love and desire, Stars (black) for dreams, Wheels (red) for revolution, and Locks (black) for knowledge. Even though the number of cards was kept at fifty-two, this highly symbolic structure places the deck closer to the Tarot arrangement of Wands, Cups, Swords and Discs, rather than the usual Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds. Breton’s socialist sympathies meant that having a royal hierarchy of King and Queen lording it over a humble Jack was quite unacceptable; these were subsequently re-named Genius, Siren and Magus. Again, the name Magus here is interesting for the added occult reference it gives to the design. Alfred Jarry’s grotesque Pa Ubu (above) was nominated as the Joker.

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Flames: Ace; Genius: Baudelaire; Siren: Mariana Alcofardo; Magus: Novalis.

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Stars: Ace; Genius: Lautréamont; Siren: Alice (from Lewis Carroll); Magus: Freud.

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Wheels: Ace; Genius: De Sade; Siren: Lamiel (from Stendhal); Magus: Pancho Villa.

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Locks: Ace; Genius: Hegel; Siren: Hélène Smith; Magus: Paracelcus.

The Jeu de Marseilles was eventually produced as a proper deck of cards (with the original sketches being reworked slightly) and has been reprinted several times since. Copies can still be found at reasonable prices from specialist card dealers.

Thanks to Eroom Nala for research assistance!