Friday, November 20, 2015

The Tarot from an artist's perpective

The Vessel (2015)
Oil on canvas 48 x 72 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz.
Available at Evoke Contemporary

As a painter with a passion for history I always find new material and sources of inspiration to inform my art. Nearly 10 years ago I introduced Christian Iconography into my work derived from Spanish Colonial Art. At the same time I was interested in finding parallels between narratives and recurring archetypes from the past to the present. In the last 10 years I've gradually expanded the visual vocabulary adding more complexity and interpretations to the work. From the study and use of Spanish colonial narratives and the Catholic pantheon of saints to the present neo-colonial global narratives and the current capitalist pantheon of transnational corporations, I soon started noticing a hidden pattern that could be drawn further back in time.
Ashé  (2015)
Oil and gold leaf on panel 12 x 24 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Private collection

The ancient pagan gods of the Roman Empire seemed to be alive in the guise of Virgins, Saints and Angels. Now I could start drawing the line between gods, heroes, saints and corporations. After reading Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas, I realized there was indeed a good reason to suspect a connection and it led me up to the starry night and the study of archetypal astrology. The old gods became even more real when I understood the relation between certain planetary alignments and significant world events that affected the course of history.  The artist soul thrives with curiosity for many things besides his/her art and never ceases to be fascinated and inspired by unseen connections that can be detected by his/her own creative mind. This I believe is the driver of creativity.

Deuscubrimiento (2010)
Oil on canvas 50 x 38 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Private Collection
 So far my research has led me to study Astrology, Alchemy and Tarot. While they all show many variants, theories and uses depending on who you read or talk to, astrology stands firmly across the ages as the oldest of the three with consistent verifiable results. From alchemy we got chemistry, from astrology, astronomy. Tarot seems to be a totally different study. They all share some mystical core concepts but originate in different times and places and lead into different paths. If astrology was like a Solar system, alchemy would be a planet and Tarot a moon. It is much easier and accessible to study a moon but this shouldn't keep us from studying the whole Solar system and beyond.  An artist should always keep an open mind to the mystical realm and with this attitude his/her inner creative child is nurtured.

La Rueda Arquetipica Neo-Colonial (2011)
Oil on moving panels 36 x 36 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz 
Private collection

Although the date is still unclear, card games originated in China and made their way into the Islamic world during the 13th Century. Subsequently the Mamluk cards were introduced to Europe  in the 14th century and it became widely produced during the Renaissance.  The cards which had been based on Middle Eastern models were adopted by the Europeans who started creating cards that  reflected their local European cultures, carrying much of the symbolism and imagery prevalent by the time. The Tarot really began around the first half of 15th century Italy. The Visconti Tarot is an Italian deck dating around 1450 in Milan and it's the earliest most complete surviving deck that we have. The earliest Tarot decks contain characters from late mediaeval tradition such as knaves, knights, queens and kings with symbolic objects like coins, staffs, swords and cups. But what distinguishes the Tarot from any other four suit deck of playing cards is the Major Arcana which are 22. It has captivated the imagination of artists and occultists throughout the last 5 centuries. Even though today it is hard to disassociate Tarot from fortune telling, the Tarot initially did not start out as a divination device. From playing cards they were also used as mnemonic and educational tools for upper-class children (such as the Mantegna Tarocchi). It wasn't until the middle of the 18th century that we find a documented evidence for its use as a divination tool.
Study of Major Arcana or Main Archetypes of the Tarot (2012)
Drawing Journal  by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

My first Tarot deck was the Rider-Waite (1910), the one most people know of and use today. But at the time I was not ready to understand the importance and impact this device would have in my art. It wasn't until I acquired the Tarot of the Saints by Robert Place and read his books on Tarot several years ago that I got really interested in learning more about this mystery tradition. I soon found an interesting relation between the Tarot and all the subjects that had been of my sources of inspiration for my art. In the cards I could see the astrological signs, the ancient gods, the Christian saints and even the modern day corporations and consumer culture icons. I could see a multiplicity of forms from the highest to the lowest converge into a single encyclopedia of timeless archetypes.

Five Tarot cards (2013) Oil painting on panels by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

My appreciation for the cards and the images in them has grown since and the way I incorporate them in my art is far from the common use of fortune telling. As an artist, I see these cards is as an archetypal encyclopedia of 78 icons and symbols that can be re-interpreted in a similar way we interpret a painting at a museum. My fascination for the cards derives out of the same pleasure of knowing and not knowing at the same time what the images are about. It is the same sensation one has when confronted with a great masterpiece of art. The allure of a an enigmatic image never ceases to draw interest and attention from the viewer and that is what makes the Tarot so appealing today. It is a timeless work of art open to re-interpretation and re-creation.
Virgen de las Revelaciones (2013) 
Oil and metal leaf on panel 31 x 47 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Private collection

Some of my paintings include images of the cards. Some are copies from the Tarot of Marseille (The earliest deck to achieve widespread fame) but most are my own interpretations of the cards. They often appear on the edges and frames of my paintings adding an extra layer of content that modifies the context of the central composition. I am fully aware of the popular connection between Tarot and divination and that plays into the narrative as well. But my primary interest in the Tarot lies within its archetypal significance and how it may affect the interpretation of a piece. I'm also interested in how the Tarot can be relevant to our current global issues. Whether one uses it for divination, or just for the pleasure of collecting, the Tarot should be considered as a powerful creative tool for artists and writers who wish to explore and create new narratives in art and literature. The more I use the Tarot and incorporate it into my work, the more I learn from it and the combinations and possible narratives seem endless.
Mare Magnum (Closed triptych) (2014)
Oil and gold leaf on triptych panel 48 x 30 inches by Patrick McGrath Muñiz.
Private Collection