Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Painting Process & Tarot, A Creative Journey. Part 1

For nearly 12 years already I've been using the Tarot as inspiration for my paintings but also as a creative tool for my narratives. It helps bring out ideas and its ever changing flexible and seemingly random character makes it a superb tool for surrealist work and exploring the subconscious mind. From Albrecht Durer to Salvador Dali, the Tarot has been both an influence and inspiration for many artists. Here, I'll be sharing with you my own approach to the Tarot as it becomes a creative journey within the painting process itself.

Immaculate Implants (2008) Oil on canvas triptych 72" x 36" 

The Tarot is composed of 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana are the most well known and emblematic for they represent universal archetypes present in all of human history. I'll guide you briefly through the first nine. Why nine? Besides having nine muses that inspire artists since ancient Greece, this number also represents the end of the cycle in the decimal system . Within the Tarot's Major Arcana, ninth card: The Hermit seems to be a good way to end "The Work" as the artist retires and lets the painting dry. With the next card: the tenth Major Arcana: Wheel Of Fortune, the work is done, exhibited and up to outer circumstances in the world to decide what happens next. From The Magician to The Hermit we see nine central figures (except  for The Lovers) that act as counselors in each and every stage of the creative process. I often like to imagine each and one of these Major Arcana as guides or artist's themselves that have useful advice for us and can assist us in every step of our process.

San Roque (2012) Ink on paper 8.5" x 11" 
by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

The Fool or the unnumbered Major Arcana which is also a cero "0", we may identify with ourselves, the artist, who journeys into the unknown and will meet and learn from each of the following characters. At the same time, The Fool will become each of these characters he encounters as he/she completes "The Work". I know I'm not alone in the feeling like a fool when I paint, searching for answers, making mistakes along the way, not knowing what to expect.  

The Disneyrican Dreamer (2013) Oil on canvas  24" x 30" 

1. The Magician and the work begin with preparation and skill. There is much to be learned from this fellow. The Magician teaches us that anything can be accomplished with our abilities, dexterity and mastery over the materials. Most Tarot decks present this figure in front of a table holding different objects associated with his "art". He is about to perform a magic trick or even sell us some stuff. In any case, what he's about to do requires focused skill. By setting up our work space neatly and orienting all energy to our craft, the work begins. This is a card of initiation and it all starts with the tactile experience of getting your hands on the materials. The Magician tells us not to be afraid to experiment and to feel free to dive in and make mistakes. This is how we learn. Talent alone is not enough. Practice makes perfect. He encourages us to deal with matter, how to master our tools, to mix colors as an alchemist and apply them as a magician. As soon as he sees The Fool stumbling around, he can be heard saying:"Look, this is how it's done! Get in your studio and get to work!".

 Magi (detail) (2012) Ink on paper 7" x 11" 

El Mago (2012) Ink on Paper 5.5" x 3"  

El Mago (2013) Oil and metal leaf on panel 24" x 45" 
Private Collection

2. The High Priestess welcomes The Fool that has recently learned the secret techniques of The Magician, with a subtle smile and mysterious gaze. She knows something The Fool/Magician doesn't. In most decks she is shown sitting passively holding a scroll or book. She is also known as "The Popess", for she is a virginal purveyor of hidden and sacred wisdom. She remains silent and in introspection and inspires us to dream and listen to our inner voice. Painting techniques are nothing without intuition and imagination. There is a subconscious Lunar energy that needs to be expressed in our art. The High Priestess teaches us to be patient, silent and allow our inner child to dream, play and be creative. She becomes the protector of this child and guides us into the next step in our art. By keeping a private drawing journal and writing down our thoughts and dreams, our inner child is free and our work is taken to the next level .She whispers into our ears deep enigmatic words that can only be expressed through Art.

                                               La Papisa (2012) Ink on card  5.5" x 3"  
                                                          by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

La Papisa (2013) Oil and metal leaf on panel 24" x 47" 
Pprivate Collection

               Sirenis Potionis Arabicae (2013) Oil and metal leaf on triptych panel 23" x 24" 
                                                          by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

3. The Empress is the next person we encounter. While the High Priestess embodied the Spiritual Virgin archetype, The Empress represents the Earthly Mother archetype. I like to think of her as "The Muse" or even Venus (Aphrodite) the Goddess herself. Being the third card within the Major Arcana, she represents grace, as in the Three Graces or even the Nine Muses (3+3+3=9) She will speak loud and clear if she finds the artist at work, committed and with the inner child in charge after meeting with The High Priestess. Three is creation itself. It takes a man and a woman to make a child (1+2=3) The Empress encourages us to take our technique and imagination and materialize it into Art.  She is represented in most cards crowned and sitting on a throne or bench surrounded by nature and holding a scepter and shield. "Be inspired by beauty, feel the energy. Materialize it!", she commands. Her voice is fully confident, authoritative and decisive. She empowers us with the gifts of vitality, inspiration and creation as we embark into the adventure of making Art. When there is will, there is movement. Movement bring in momentum and the soil we plant our seeds is incredibly fertile. It is time to paint!

                              Virgen Protectora del Comercio (2013) Oil on canvas 48" x 48"
                                                                 Private Collection
                                                         by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

La Emperatriz (2013) Oil and metal leaf on panel 24" x 47" 
  Mesa Contemporary Museum Collection, Mesa, AZ

A Tribute to Venus, Peace & Love (2010) Oil and metal leaf on wood triptych 24" x  26" 
                                                                    Private Collection
                                                              by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Hope you enjoyed this so far but there's still more to come and I wanted to keep each post as brief as possible. Stay tuned for the next segment of this three part article: Painting Process and Tarot, A Creative Journey, Part 2, where we'll be exploring The Emperor, Pope and The Lovers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Tarot as a Creative Guide for the Artist

Everything has a purpose. In every experience there is a hidden lesson. Last August I received an emergency call from Puerto Rico. My Mom had a severe car accident and was taken to intensive care. My siblings and I immediately flew down to San Juan and to the hospital. The whole experience was scary and surreal. Thank God she is alive and doing much better today. We are all in awe with her quick recovery. This has been a true miracle and this is no exaggeration given the extreme circumstances which I will not go into detail here. For this I'm very grateful to all who had her in their thoughts and prayers.  

Morning at Punta Las Marias, Puerto Rico

While in Puerto Rico, I had the chance to go back to the house where I grew up in Aguadilla and look for my childhood toys and first drawings. At the bottom of a box inside a plastic bag I found my very first Tarot deck. Many of my things did not survive due to tropical weather, humidity or bugs. It was a big nice surprise to find this treasure nearly intact. It's been very meaningful to me and to this day I still see it as a personal revelation. It triggered many memories, from how I  got this first Tarot deck to what I see in it and how it inspires me with my work. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I see the Tarot as a mystical encyclopedia of archetypes.  Finding this deck changed my whole relation to the Tarot. All of the sudden the memories came back to me and it became more personal. This personal discovery was like a guiding light of hope in middle of the darkness. It told me that miracles are possible.

The 1JJ  Swiss Tarot Cards (My very first Tarot deck from 1992)

Finding this old deck among my belongings from 25 years ago not only renewed my interest in the Tarot, it became a creative guide for my art. It did not have much to do with fortune telling or divination but rather a mirror in which I could see my own life reflected. And even though I've discovered it can give some insight into the future (So can a history book) it seems far more useful in order to understand the present. As an artist I find great value in it's semantic elasticity and multiple narrative variations. In the hands of a Surrealist painter it becomes a powerful key which can open many hidden doors. It combines abstract design with figurative elements and has the possibility of telling every possible story of the human experience depending on card arrangement and context. They are like miniature paintings that can be interpreted in so many ways, it stimulates the imagination and lights up the creative mind. Right after I found this deck, I painted these:

MEMENTO MORI II (2016) Oil and metal leaf on canvas 30 x 40 inches 
by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

MEMENTO MORI I (2016) Oil and metal leaf on canvas 30 x 40 inches 
                                                                by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

The cards I used for these paintings as points of departure and inspiration were the Four of Cups and Ace of Swords. The narratives in these paintings are related in part to the interpretation of these cards.  The whole experience in Puerto Rico last year made me reflect on life and death and how easily things can change from one moment to the next. Life in a way is so unpredictable and changing as shuffling a deck of cards. The seemingly random results are what we get in a card reading just as in life. But nature has a mysteriously wise way of balancing things and placing the right cards in front of us. This is why I believe the Tarot can be an incredibly powerful guide and tool in the hands of the artist. When art is too controlled, rational and predictable, it becomes boring and unimaginative. When we allow intuition and the free flow of creative thought to become active players in the creative act, art becomes new, exciting and insightful. This is precisely what I've discovered can happen with the Tarot.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Surrealism & 2016

Les Amants (The Lovers)  (1928) :: Oil on canvas 28" x 21" by Rene Magritte

Back in art school I remember there used to be a stigma placed unto anyone who wanted to explore surrealism. As art students we were encouraged to experiment and break away from tradition. We were told that Surrealism was an art movement that already had its time and place in Europe in the 1920's and that like Impressionism, there was no point of following the steps of these artists. It was dated therefore "passé" and not considered  a valid form of contemporary art. While it is not easily found in mainstream contemporary art, there are still many incredible artists today that make great art inspired by the surrealist tradition. 

The Promise II (2012) :: Oil and egg tempera on panel 16" x 20" by Madeline Von Foerster

I've always wondered why is there a preference for certain kinds of art within the mainstream contemporary art scene while others are excluded. Take for instance conceptual art. An offspring movement of Dada and formally theorized in the late sixties, conceptual art is perhaps as dated and "passé" as Surrealism, yet the former is by far more acceptable in the eyes of mainstream art circles. Yet the surrealist movement is very strong today, particularly among the international art group Dreams and Divinities. There is indeed a resurgence of surrealist art and it is stronger than ever. There is no reason to believe it already had it's time and that it's over.  Au contraire!

Halcyon (2012) ::  Oil on panel 12" x 18" by Carrie Ann Baade

Transcending the Duality (2014) ::
Oil on canvas 39" x 39" by Liba Stambollion

Modern Surrealism also derived from Dada had it's own Surrealist Manifesto written by French poet Andre Bretton. It began as a literary movement influenced by Sigmund Freud's free association and dream analysis. Soon after the poets, painters started to experiment by painting without conscious control, a creative process called automatism. This in turn, revealed unconscious imagery in the work. Surrealism has basically two schools; One more abstract, distancing itself from conscious control as much as possible (Miró & Ernst) and one with a more detailed and figurative approach (Dalí, Magitte). Surreal implies something "unreal", a dream-like realm beyond rational reality.  

Mammon (2010) :: Oil on canvas 78" x 54" by Alex Gross

Interestingly "Surreal" was chosen as Merriam-Webster's word of the year and used to describe the events of 2016. With recent events such as the terrorist attacks in Europe and the US as well as the war in Syria, the US elections of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote in the UK, it is not hard to explain why the word "Surreal" has seen a spike in lookups on the online dictionary. It is not the first time though. In 2001 the word had its most enduring spike soon after 9/11. It often seems like the word comes up in moments most people feel a sense of shock and tragedy and try to make sense of it all. 

8:30 A.M. (2002) :: Oil on canvas 50" x 60" By Miguel Tio

Canción bajo el árbol (Song under the Tree):: Oil on canvas 30" x 40" by Johnny Palacios Hidalgo

Whenever we feel there is a disconnect with reality, for better or for worse, we tend to think of surrealism. I remember visiting the School of Fine Arts in Lima, Peru in 1998. By the time I was amazed at so much young talent in this school, I even wanted to study there. But something really caught my attention. Many of the art students were devoted to surrealism in their art. With so much political unrest, social injustice and inequality, that was so shockingly evident to me, I asked myself, why were they so interested in the fantastic? Wasn't this plain escapism? Why not make art that is mindful of your surroundings and  denounce what's wrong with the system? Was it because it was too depressing, they didn't see it, or they simply weren't interested?

The Seed (2014):: Oil on canvas 48" x 48" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Then I realized, my art was no different from theirs. I too looked for solace, peace and inspiration elsewhere, in art history and... in an alternate reality. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but I think there is much more to it than that. The truth is that after all these years I now see how unexpectedly socially aware surrealist art can really be. While many might see surrealist art as a form of escapism, it can also be a cure for our current social ills. Surrealism allows us to explore our own inner worlds and see things from a different perspective. Surrealism opens up the gates to a realm of the insanely impossible. In middle of all the craziness of our own world, surrealist art can enlighten us by revealing the key to understanding ourselves and how we perceive the world around us at an unconscious level. That may well be our antidote and best way to cope with the crazy sick world we live in today. Yes, 2016 may easily push many to think of it in "surreal" terms. Doesn't this already make a very good case to consider surrealism as a valid form of contemporary art if not the most relevant of all specially in these times we are living in?

Nueve (Nine) (2016) :: Oil on canvas 39" x 25.5" by Gabriela Garza Padilla