Monday, December 17, 2018

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

The World from the Tarot of Marseilles

Historically, the Tarot has been used  as a card game and later on for divination purposes. It can be divided into two parts: The 22 Trumps or Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. There are 4 suits within the Minor Arcana (Swords, Batons, Cups and Coins) each containing 10 Pip Cards from the Ace to number 10 plus 4 additional court cards (Knave, Knight, Queen and King). The earliest most complete surviving Tarot deck dates back to 1450 is the Visconti-Sforza deck from Northern Italy. The language of Neo Platonic allegories, Biblical narratives and depictions of Queens, Kings and Popes present in the Tarot takes us back to the time and culture of the Renaissance and right at the time of Christopher Columbus.

The Star from the Visconti Sforza Tarot

Subsequently, in 1909 the artist Pamela Coleman Smith created the illustrations for what is now known as the Rider-Waite Tarot or Waite-Smith Tarot the best known Tarot deck from which the majority of decks derive from. What made the Rider-Waite deck so appealing to new audiences was the fact that Smith had illustrated the minor suits with human figures and narratives that made it much easier to interpret and read. Before that, Tarot decks such as the Tarot of Marseilles (1748), only had abstract depictions of swords, cups, batons and coins. It is noteworthy to mention that Smith used Medieval and Renaissance figures to illustrate the scenes in all her cards.

Two of Staffs from the Rider Waite Tarot.

As an artist with a Roman Catholic background and growing up during the 1980's and 90's in the island of Puerto Rico, the oldest colony in the Western Hemisphere, I've had a deep interest in reconnecting with the past. Besides being drawn initially to the art of the Renaissance from the very beginning of my art studies, from the elementary school text books to my travels through Latin America, the figure of Columbus and the images of the conquest and colonization of the New World have captivated my imagination as an artist.

Vespucci awakens "America" in a Stradanus engraving (circa 1638)

20 years ago I started incorporating these narratives into my paintings. At the beginning I was influenced by Eduardo Galeano's Open veins of Latin America and Liberation Theology. With time I got more interested in re-telling the story of climate change by tracing its origins to the time of Columbus. In drawings, paintings and altarpieces, my work responded to the global capitalist/consumerist society with its indifference to the rising threat of climate change and social injustice The hidden connections between American consumer culture propaganda and Spanish Colonial Art and Latin American history are  revealed in this deck I've created.

The Sun from the Tarot Novi Mundi by Patrick McGrath Muñiz. 

The Tarot Novi Mundi (Tarot of the New World) inspired by Catholic Iconography, derives mainly from the history of the Americas but also from personal experiences, reinterpreting the iconography found in the 78 Arcanas of the Tarot while addressing social and environmental issues in our present day world.  Through the use of satirical narratives and anachronisms I aim at questioning the ruling Corpocracy with its Colonial roots, Neo-colonial ramifications and it's inept response to environmental crisis and its impact on the community, especially the poor. These have been my main concerns when making art and this deck is essentially a compendium of the recurring archetypes, narratives and themes in already present in my work.  

THE SEED (2014) Oil on canvas 48 x 48 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz. Private Collection.

Every card presents a story, much like an Old Master painting. It made perfect sense to me to re-tell the story of the Americas using the Tarot as it is a product of the same time in which the New and Old World collided bringing about a turning point in human history and dawn of globalization with all its ills and benefits. The Tarot commonly used for fortune telling has a special appeal  to us in a time of political uncertainty and environmental fragility. We are now living in a time of  increased nuclear threat, climate change and technological disruption. The 21st century global culture driven by consumerism and free market policies is part of a larger complex anthropocentric process that like the Tarot, started in the fifteenth century with the encounter and collision of two worlds. The Tarot with its esoteric and exoteric symbolism, both enigmatic and strangely familiar provided me with the perfect story telling format to describe the way I see and understand the world around me.

The Star, Three of Staffs and The World cards from Tarot Novi Mundi by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

The use of Latin in the titles of each card relate directly to the history of Empire and the Church. English, French and Spanish, all languagues of past empires are also used in smaller letters. After being shown at The Jung Center in Houston this year, it is now in the process of being edited before being publishing by US Games. The deck will include a booklet explaining the meaning behind each card and how to interpret them in a reading. If you're interested in updates and purchasing this deck once it is published, you can visit my artist website and subscribe to my newsletter to keep up with the latest news on it.  

Ten of Coins from he Tarot Novi Mundi by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Hope you enjoyed reading and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, November 26, 2018

My encounter and evolving relation with the Tarot (Part 2 of 3)

EL EMIGRANTE & EL ARTISTA (2011) Oil and gold leaf on panel 11.5 x 23.5
 from the Mcolonial Citizens series.

In 2011 I worked on a series of oil paintings and gold leaf on panel titled  The Mcolonial Citizens. This represented my first direct exploration into some of the archetypes found in the Tarot. Since I was interested in issues related to social injustice and inequality in the Americas from colonial times to the present,  the Series E/S Conditions of Man from the Mantegna Tarocchi made perfect sense as a point of departure and inspiration for this collection. On  these 12 pieces also found inspiration in the Spanish Colonial "Casta" paintings and the portraits of 18th century Puerto Rican painter Jose Campeche. From the Beggar to the CEO, these "Neo-Colonial" portraits respond to the present socio-economic living conditions in a capitalist/consumer driven society.  The Mcolonial Citizens were shown at Petrus Gallery in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2012.

EL MENDIGO & LA AMA DE CASA (2011) Oil and gold leaf on panel 11.5 x 23.5
 from the Mcolonial Citizens series.

 EMPERATRIZ & EMPERADOR (2013) Oil and gold leaf on panel from the Devocionales series.

In 2012 and 2013 a second wave of work inspired after the Tarot was created, titled Devocionales: Neo Colonial Retablos from an Archetypal Perspective. These "Neo-Colonial" retablos were derived directly from the Major Arcana from the Tarot  of Marseille, one of the oldest surviving Tarot decks. As with the Mcolonial I aimed at the issues of social inequality and consumer culture taking inspiration in Spanish Colonial Art and Latin American history. The difference this time was in scale, complexity and the use of several Tarot decks as source of inspiration, but mainly the Tarot of Marseille. In large gilded altar like poliptychs I incorporated multiple historical narratives, tying them all together with a common archetypal theme.  This body of work along with some of the Mcolonial Citizens were exhibited at the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, in Mesa, Arizona in 2013. 

EL MAGO & LA PAPISA (2013) Oil and gold leaf on panel from the Devocionales series.

In the following years, from 2014 to 2016 the work kept evolving  while I incorporated and developed the archetypal language of the Tarot in it as well as visual elements derived from Alchemy Astrology and Mythology.

TEMPUS FUGIT (2014) Oil and gold leaf on panel 36 x 31 inches.

By the end of 2016 after my re-encounter my old cards, I decided it was the right time to create my very first deck of cards, the Tarot Novi Mundi. After much research and creative exploration I wanted to create a deck that reflected my personal experiences from my childhood years growing up in Puerto Rico to my travels through Latin America. I also wanted to integrate some of the narratives from a book that was highly influential in my art since 1999. I'm talking about Memorias del Fuego by Eduardo Galeano, a compendium of short stories from the history of the Americas. I read this trilogy while traveling through Peru in 1998 and it had a huge impact in the way I understood the history of Latin America. Galeano as an incredible storyteller portrayed the story of the Americas as an ongoing history of conquest, colonization and exploitation of people's and resources in the name of the Crown, Church and Capital. At that time I felt  a strong  urge  to re-tell these stories through  Art. Even though I no longer fully agree  with all the Marxist views and post colonial theories expressed by Galeano, Cesaire and others, I do see the need to respond to the issues of colonization, immigration, social injustice and the ruling corpocracy in the Americas from a historical perspective and through Art.

6 BASTA (6 of Wands) PONTIFEX MAXIMUS (The Pope) & 2 BASTA (2 of Wands) 
Three cards from the Tarot Novi Mundi

The Tarot provided me with the perfect platform for such endeavor. Originating during the Renaissance, in the age of Columbus and the dawn of globalization, the Tarot has been used for playing cards games and fortune telling. Within this context in mind It wasn't too hard to see how the story of the Americas could be retold, yet it would be impossible to include all the important stories in 78 cards. With more than 500 years of social struggles, individual stories and historical turning points, I had to get creative, but  also very selective with the stories I wanted to tell.  Since it is my first Tarot deck, I decided to make it more personal and stick with the historical narratives that somehow struck a chord in me as an artist. I also took some creative liberty to incorporate some of my own stories into the cards, recognizing and embracing my own bias and personal experiences informing my understanding of history.  With this in mind I worked for a whole year in 2017 on  the deck. On the next and last part of this blog article I'll discuss in more detail the soon to be published Tarot Novi Mundi.

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