Looking for a good conversation starter? Try this the next time you walk into a crowded room: "I just bought a really cool deck of tarot cards!" People will react -- some with interest, some with disdain. Today, just about everyone knows what a tarot deck is. Tarot's archetypal, iconic imagery and symbolism is ingrained in so many aspects of our lives and culture, from literature and art to spiritual traditions and dreams. Despite the fact that tarot has, over the last 50 years, gone from counterculture to almost mainstream, it still gets people talking. You might think it's the devil's parlor-game, or you might think it's a great way to get answers about life's journey, you might be a little more ambivalent -- but just about everyone has an opinion. The Ink People Center for the Arts' tarot project, Tarot As Muse: Humboldt Artists Interpret the Major Arcana, is likely to be a conversation starter and, perhaps, much more.
The project is the brainchild of mask artist and Maskibition curator Kathryne DeLorme. The idea came to DeLorme while studying tarot with local instructor Carolyn Ayres. "The last part of Carolyn's training, she asks you to create some sort of an art piece to represent the final card in the major arcana [the 22 primary cards in the traditional tarot deck of 78 cards], and as I was working on my art piece I just thought 'My God -- with so many artists in Humboldt why don't we do a Humboldt version of the tarot!' Carolyn and I kind of threw the idea around. ... I could just see a gallery of paintings of the 22 major cards in the tarot deck," DeLorme declared.
She took her idea to Ink People Director Libby Maynard. Maynard loved the idea for the gallery show and proposed reproducing the images as a collectible major arcana tarot deck that could be sold to help support Ink People, much like the decks of cards the nonprofit has produced in the past. DeLorme and Ayres became co-curators of the exhibition, with Ayres serving as tarot expert, and the project was under way.
The process began in May 2011 with a letter inviting local artists to participate. As fate would have it, out of more than 60 letters sent out, they received 22 positive responses -- the exact number needed to carry out the project as they had envisioned it. The participants came from many different backgrounds and stylistic camps, but they all shared a common enthusiasm for the project. "Some of these artists were well versed in tarot. Others really knew nothing -- they just thought it sounded like a fun project and wanted to be in on it and learn more about Tarot," DeLorme said.
With the group of 22 in place, each artist blindly selected a card from the deck with the understanding that each selection was final -- no trades, no returns, no substitutions. The artists were asked to research the card on their own. Next came one-on-one meetings with Ayers during which she gave each artist what she calls a "snap-shot reading" to help them get a sense of how the selected card was relevant in their lives. Finally, it was time to go to work. Artists had nine months to come up with an interpretation of their selected card as an art piece.
In addition to the paintings, the artists were asked to write a statement about their chosen card and their work. The curators wanted these to go beyond the traditional artist statement, beyond discussion of materials, inspiration and aesthetic goals. Ayers pushed each artist to come up with something more personal and more specific to the project and each person's interaction with tarot symbolism.
Now, more than a year after the project began, the 22 resulting paintings, an eclectic mix of styles and interpretations, will be on display at Ink People's Ink Annex gallery at 47B West Third St. in Eureka. An opening is scheduled for Saturday, July 7, in conjunction with Arts! Alive. DeLorme and Ayers both hope that the exhibition will be educational for viewers. They hope it can change people's understanding of what tarot is -- that people will become more aware of the possibilities that exist within tarot.
"What I'm hoping is that people will come in and be affected by it, that they'll walk in and stand in front of these images and something will resonate. Or they will read what an artist says and they'll go, 'Wow, that's me! I relate to this!' ... That's what [Kathryne and I] are both hoping for, that people will walk in and it'll be an experience," said Ayers.
The paintings on display have been reproduced to create a collectible major arcana tarot deck including a booklet containing all the artists' statements. The decks will be for sale at the opening event at Ink Annex gallery and at select locations around Humboldt County, with proceeds going to benefit Ink People Center for the Arts. For more information visit inkpeople.org.
Additional events related to the project are scheduled at the Ink Annex gallery throughout July:
Saturday July 7, 6-9 p.m. Opening Reception. Meet and greet with live music by Amazing Art Band.
Saturday July 14, 1-3 p.m. Artists Talk Tarot. Hear five of the artists share their insights and process while creating their tarot image. $5.
Saturday July 21, 1-3 p.m. Carolyn Ayres' Major Arcana Workshop. Learn about the tarot major arcana, their meanings, history and how to work with them in a reading. $10.
Saturday July 28, 7-10 p.m. Tarot Costume Party. Come as your favorite archetypal character! A celebration of the tarot and the universal archetypes. Benefit for Ink People with feral jazz by Dogbone and more. $20.