I'll be very curious to hear your thoughts once you've played with the deck for a bit. I'm struck mostly with how substantial the deck feels, it feels like a work
deck, not a collector's item. I, too, need to sit down with it and really examine it in the light of day, but I'm just really pleased with my first impression!
I have been reading James Rosenquist’s recently published auto-biography. Rosenquist is one of America’s fundamental pop artists, together with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. This is a delicious book, full of that haunting imagery that we often find in the memoirs of those who grew up in the Midwest during the 30’s. Along the book, Rosenquist talks about making a catapult whose rock ended up hitting him in the face, so he went to school for the first day with a black eye that gave him a reputation as a tough guy, or about sleeping out in the open with a troupe of sign painters, just to wake up surrounded by the clowns, elephants and workmen of a circus that settled around them during the night. One find images like this one: “My father ran a Mobil gasoline station off the highway. It was during the Depression, and the big treat for me was being able to drink the bottom half of my father five cents Coca-Cola”. What an amazing thing to read to our kids, in this time an age when hey take everything for granted!
Rosenquist started out as a sign painter. He worked here in New York for a long time, literally covering the city with gigantic advertising images, until he finally found his way into pop art, by translating the feeling and physicality of thee billboard into pieces he could exhibit at art galleries. There were a couple of phrases in the book that I found very inspiring, specially yesterday, as I was working all day with the new Jean Dodal:
“By the time I was a teenager I’d found my way out by picking up pieces here and there, like clues to a puzzle. I’d found a way of looking at the world as disconnected images brought together for an unknown purpose. Without realizing it, I deliberately sought out the incongruities that would match my memories.”
“Could I have started painting in, say, 1956? The thing is, I lacked the abstract turn of mind necessary to transform the raw material into art.”
The first phrase took me straight to the very illusion of the tarot: we “pick up pieces here and there, like clues to a puzzle” and we play along a game consisting on accepting that these random images came together by “for an unknown purpose” to tell a story abut ourselves. But the game isn’t just about making up any story, because “without realizing it” we seek for these “incongruities that would match our memories”. Yesterday, for example, I saw a woman who got The Sun, The Queen of Wands and The Devil. I pointed out how The Sun shows a couple in total connection, while the Devil shows the couple’s relationship being interrupted by a third party. In the Dodal, The Queen of Wands looks very depressed, with her hair reinforcing the downward direction of her shoulders. Even when the Queen is facing us, I could intuit the heaviness of her spine, as if the poor woman didn’t have enough in her to keep a straight posture. I pointed out how the Queen despaired looking at the unavoidability of having The Sun card turned into The Devil card. My client didn’t ask any question beforehand, but she told me the cards were talking about an event that had happened the day before: the love of her life came to see her, after five years of separation, to tell her she was indeed his true love, but he must remain attached to his wife. Then he left, and the only thing my client could do was to watch him go. How can we not see this woman as the Queen of Wands once we have heard her story? There is something powerful in the illusion the tarot creates, in that we engage in this game without knowing it. We don’t have to do anything more than looking at the cards for our brain to take it from there. Yesterday morning I had a terrific moment, as I spread the whole Dodal in such a way that I could only see half of each card, the other half being covered by the card on top. As soon as I did this, I experienced a whole symphony of shapes mimicking each other. I could see so many arms suggesting all kinds of sequential motions, so many legs, and so many floral patterns mirroring all these limbs. There were horse heads -these four horses in the Dodal have an extraordinary dynamism- turning into coins, coins turning into cups... so much going on! As I have spend too many months working with the hand-stenciled versions the Noblet and the Dodal, having the pips was an extraordinary awakening. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed the Ace of Swords!
The second of Rosenquist’s phrases is less direct, but more important to me. Rosenquist’s work consist on creating huge collage-like paintings that look as sections of billboards put together. What interests him is not so much the subject in the images as their texture, so, he will paint a whole rectangle featuring macaroni and cheese side by side with a rectangle showing curls of black hair. There is a distance between a whole, functional, billboard and a composite of moments from several billboards put together. The first thing that happens in the transition from billboard to artwork is that the communicative purpose of a billboard evolves, from the specificity of its definitive purpose, featuring one single idea, to the expressive expansion of experiencing billboards. Rosenquist artwork doesn’t says ‘Eat at Joe’s’ but it takes us to the visually orgiastic experience of inhabiting a contemporary city, with its landscape of posters and murals.
Two things happen in that transition from billboard to artwork that I believe are key for understanding the experience of the tarot that interests me. First, Rosenquist’s gesture supposes to go beyond immediate purpose, beyond here and now, to see a billboard for more than what it is. This he accomplishes by letting the experiential qualities of the image to take over content. Macaroni an cheese is not macaroni and cheese anymore, but a sensuous quality of shape and color, plus the memories it elicits. In a reading, one can go beyond the iconographic qualities of an image, so, if one looks at The Devil followed by the Three of Swords, one can see the two bounded persons as these two scimitars, and the devil as the central red sword. Then, a second thing will happen: we will take a mental leap in which, by turning into a red sword, The Devil stops being a presence and becomes a sting, the pain caused by the constant reminder of that person’s presence. There we have a narrative. This mental leap is what guides the narrative in the cards beyond symbolism, into an unique experience. That is, I believe, one great advantage of working with the simpler pips of the Marseille tarot: they don’t allow you to stay at the representational level of the image, but they force you into that level of abstraction in which they exist. That’s the level of abstraction Rosenquist is talking about. Right there, when the red mouth of a cup is not a cup anymore but Death’s elbow, there is no stiffness, there is no “this means this and that means that”. You know you aren’t ‘reading by numbers’ anymore but creating something, so the tarot becomes an expressive medium for narrative articulation that manifests each time in an unique and unexpected way.
Thanks Jean-Claude and Roxanne for giving me the opportunity of experiencing all that again!
All my Best,