Wednesday, October 10, 2018

My encounter and evolving relation with the Tarot (Part 1 of 3)

PONTIFEX MAXIMUS (The Pope Card) From my first Tarot Deck Tarot Novi Mundi

 It was in December 2016, that I finally started to work on my first formal Tarot deck, The Tarot Novi Mundi (New World Tarot). I've had the project in mind for years, being intrigued by the mysterious deck of cards and incorporating the imagery in many of my paintings starting in 2005.   In the following blog article, divided in three parts, I'll share my first encounter with the Tarot, how I've used it in my work to how I eventually created my first deck of cards.

VIRGEN DE LAS REVELACIONES (2013) (Detail) Oil and gold leaf on panel 31 x 47 inches. Private Collection.

As I mentioned this project has been haunting me for some time with people constantly asking me when I was going to do it. But it wasn't until  September, 2016 when I re-discovered my very first deck of cards, the 1JJ Swiss Tarot, that the epiphany and great moment of revelation came to me. The original 1JJ Swiss Tarot, inspired after the earlier Tarot of Marseille was made around 1860 by Johannes Müller  in Diessenhofen, Switzerland and reprinted by US Games Stuart R. Kaplan in 1970. In 2016 I travelled to Puerto Rico to visit my mother. I incidentally found the deck hidden behind some books in my mom's house in Aguadilla, while looking for childhood memories and toys I grew up with.  The cards were in it's original box wrapped in a small plastic bag to keep them from humidity and bugs. I felt as if for some mysterious reason these cards had a special purpose and meaning in my life so I brought the cards with me to Houston, Texas, where I currently live.

Exactly one year later (2017) Hurricane Maria hit the island, killing people, sweeping much of the already debilitated infrastructure and destroying many homes including my mother's house. Luckily my mom was safe and sound in Florida at the time. Not much survived in the house after the hurricane and the looting in the aftermath. I can't help but think of all the things I could have saved from the house, If I just knew beforehand. From old books, to photos, memories and so much artwork,  most of it now gone forever. But somehow and for some reason I managed to bring back this compact deck of cards with me. 

My mother's house and childhood home  in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017

I remember well the day and circumstances which led me to acquire this deck in the first place, back in Puerto Rico in 1993. Right before going to the movie theater to see Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness,  my brother, our friend Cesar and I  stopped by a bookshop. Cesar bought a Tarot deck wanting to know his future. After shuffling the cards and asking a question about his future, The Devil, The Tower and the nine of swords came out. We joked about his ongoing bad luck and after watching the movie, we were on our way home when all of the sudden Cesar's car's engine broke down in the middle of the road in Aguadilla. We had to walk to the mall and call mom to pick us up. Convinced the cards were responsible for his bad luck, Cesar decided to sell the cards to me for a just five bucks.  At the time I did not think much of it other than having fun using the cards with friends. I did not really believe in the power of fortune telling, was not specially superstitious and to this day remain a skeptic. But the cards had a grip on my imagination and I always thought there was something more to them. I was intrigued by the both familiar and obscure archetypes found in the 22 Major Arcana.

THE DISNEYRICAN DREAMER (2013) Oil on Canvas 24 x 30 inches
Our friend Cesar known in the barrio as "Cesar, el loco" served as a model for this piece.

 That year I graduated from high school and went on to study painting at The School of Fine Arts in San Juan. At the time I was drawn to the mystical as well as the work of the Old Masters, but the Tarot wasn't present in my visual repertoire. It wasn't until 2005, when I was pursuing my M.F.A. at the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia, that a renewed interest in the Tarot took over me. At the time I was reading books on Alchemy, History and Colonialism. Although my thesis IConsumer revolved around the issues of Spanish Colonial Art Iconography and American Consumerism, I kept the Tarot as part of my visual toolbox of symbols and archetypes.

INSULA IGNOMINIAE IN LIMBUS EST (2005) Oil and metal leaf on canvas 58 x 46 inches

INSULA IGNOMINIAE IN LIMBUS EST (2005) detail with Cemi , Consumer Products and Tarot cards.

IMMACULATE IMPLANTS (2008) Oil on triptych canvas 72 x 36 inches Artist's Collection.

IMMACULATE IMPLANTS (2008) Detail showing Tequila bottle, white rose, candle, human skull and Hermit Tarot Card.

With time my personal exploration and interest in Tarot intensified.  Once I graduated in 2007, I started looking at the Pagan roots of Christian Iconography. This led me into the exploration of mythological narratives that  later in 2008-2010 I combined with Christian Icons and my appropriated consumer culture brands, logos and fast food characters.  By 2011 I was already studying archetypal astrology and infusing my work with deeper meaning. This was also the time I started to seriously consider creating a Tarot deck of cards. On the second part of this article, I'll further discuss how I saw all these connections and how the archetypes from all these traditions came together in my paintings. Stay tuned for more as this is just the beginning. 

HOMO STULTUS (The Fool) - AS BASTORUM (Ace of Batons) - 7 DENARII (7 of Coins)
Three cards from the Tarot Novi Mundi

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Year Resolutions? Why not start with just one: Self-Control.

 THE AGE OF MAN (2017) Oil and Goldleaf on triptych panel 16 x 11 inches 
                                                 by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

It is a new year and like all years, we often think and plan our resolutions. Year after year we may start to notice most of these fail. Bad habits are hard to break and as soon as we start adding more to a list of things to change, we inevitably make it harder to focus on our goal. After trying out different work schedules and thinking about all the problems in the world I started to see a connection between the one thing that I could improve within myself and if we all set our minds and will to it, change the world for the better. As an artist I'm often thinking about relations and correspondences between the macro and micro and finding ways to address a whole spectrum of issues with one simple step. The step I'm talking about is Self-Control.

HEBE (2014) Oil and gold leaf on panel 18 x 24 inches 

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, conducted in New Zealand, followed the lives of 1037 children since the day they were born to their thirties. The study revealed that one of the most important factors for successful and healthy life was the ability to manage and control behaviors and emotions in order to reach a long term goal. According to the study, Self-Control played an even greater role than intelligence or social status in determining success in the lives of  many of these children. The study is important because it not only it can be a predictor of mental emotional and physical health but it also sheds light on how to change bad habits and lead healthier lives. If you wish to read more about this study, check out the marshmallow test. The results and insights are mind blowing. There is a very good documentary series that covers it : Predict My Future: The Science of Us.

TEMPUS FUGIT (2014) Oil and metal leaf on panel 36 x 31 inches 
                                                  by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Imagine a world where corporate greed, consumerism, crime, addictions and all other vices in society can be managed and controlled. Just think of a president that cannot control his impulse to tweet a taunt that could have devastating nuclear consequences for the world and you'll soon realize how important self-control really is. In the middle ages people were familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Rage, Sloth, Avarice, Envy, Lust and Pride.  With Temperance (self-control) all of these excesses could be dissipated. In 2008-09 I worked on a series of paintings exploring these themes. Almost ten years later I now see Temperance as the most important virtue to attain. Think of the other three virtues: Strength, Prudence and Justice. In order to be strong, prudent and just, one must first temper (moderate) one's owns weaknesses, impulsiveness and prejudices. 

OUR DAILY BREAD (2016) Oil on canvas 36 x 60 inches 
                                             by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

To have self-control is to be self-disciplined. To be self-disciplined is to know oneself and tame the beast within. This is key to anything from losing weight, to changing bad habits and becoming a master at your craft. So instead of having a long list of resolutions for this year, consider focusing on one thing, just one thing: Self-Control. Once achieved and with a mindful set of balanced activities in daily life, everything else will fall into place. As Buddha would once say: " The true master lives in truth, in goodness and restraint, Non-violence, moderation and purity". 

                                 CREDO (2017) Oil on canvas 18 x 24 inches 
Private Collection


Saturday, September 30, 2017

An artist's responsibility in an Age of Climate Change.

DILUVIUM (2017) (detail)
Oil and metal leaf on panel 30 x 45 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

At the time of writing this, it's been little more than a month after Hurricane Harvey hit us in Texas. The level of destruction and flooding here in Houston had no description, you just had to see it for yourself. At this moment, we are still seeing not just the aftermath of Harvey, but of two others, Irma and Maria.  This year has seen some major destructive hurricanes within just a month and hurricane season just started! My closest family in Florida were affected by Irma. Maria has caused tremendous devastation in the island of Puerto Rico. My hometown of Aguadilla was not spared from it and my childhood home and studio destroyed. A considerable amount of artwork from my early stages till recently are now gone forever. Over 30 years of work erased in the blink of an eye. These storms have affected so many of us in so many different levels. And even though my family is ok... for now, I still haven't heard from many of my friends and fear for their lives. Maria has now become a major humanitarian crisis with a shamefully slow response from the U.S. government. Let's be reminded, this is an American colony and the people from Puerto Rico are American citizens. It is the responsibility of the U.S. to take care of it's territories and peoples, otherwise let them be free. 

Oil and gold leaf on panel 11.5 x 23.5 inches  by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

These three catastrophic events have hit me in a deeply personal level but Im also painfully aware of the "natural" disasters occurring in Mexico, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh. This all has had a powerful impact on me as well. Climate change is real and it is affecting us all. And yes, I know we've always had hurricanes but the fact that these are intensifying and becoming more and more common because of warmer water and air conditions is a direct consequence of climate change. As unregulated transnational corporations keep polluting and our dependence on fossil fuel and rampant consumerist habits grow, we can only expect things to get worse, a lot worse.

BRENDAN (2017) 
Oil and gold leaf on panel 11.5 x 23.5 inches  by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

As citizens of this world we can no longer be immune or indifferent to the effects and most importantly the causes of climate change.  As an artist, a talented person with an extra sensibility it would be totally unforgivable . Artists are story tellers, myth makers and hope bringers. Our impact and influence on how the rest of us think and feel should never be underestimated. We are potential agents of change. But art can also transform our understanding and perception of history, nature, culture and even ourselves ultimately deciding the Zeitgeist or collective spirit of the times and the course we take.   

 PLEGARIA (2017)  
Oil on canvas 24 x 24 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

We could either despair and loose hope in the future or we could get up and do something about our current environmental crisis. Nothing good has ever come out of doing nothing so it's worth giving action a chance, resist and fight back for a better world with social and climate justice for all. Everyone can make a difference depending on their abilities and gifts. Some celebrities have lots of money so they donate their money to help others. Others work in politics and can put pressure and challenge the establishment elite. The media could be doing a much better job at investigating and communicating the root causes of climate change.  We, artists have our talents and art at our disposal in order to bring awareness of the most important issue of our time: Climate Change.  Do your research, learn from others, tell your personal stories and create art that educates and opens minds.  Enough with modernity's obsession with individuality, progress, commodities and consumerism. Make art that's ecocentric, not egocentric.  No more time for excuses, time to get to work !