Reminded at Depth that Tarot is No Thing with Which to Fuck Around

About a year ago towards the end of June 2013, I finally started to paint my Tarot deck. I knew at the time that I was undertaking the largest and most challenging body of work of my entire career, but I had no idea that by the time a year had passed I would find myself so psychically and emotionally drained.

I think of my Tarot as one work of art made up of 22 paintings, each of which is 5 feet high and 3 ½ feet wide. Aside from the basic fact that undertaking one work that is in total 73.33 feet long and 5 feet tall is a hell of a lot of hard work. In retrospect, this series was incredibly demanding in terms of finances, material, and labor. This does not include the cost of a full time studio assistant and a DUMBO studio. That’s the easy part.

When I first started the series, the card imagery veritably poured out of me in spite of working with a totally repaired rotator cuff on my left arm which I had dislocated from the shoulder. I would work on three or four at a time, take a brief break from the Cards to paint a landscape or two – memories from the south of France – and then dive back in. I hardly needed to look at the paintings; they were just right.

It is a year later. Yesterday I completed Judgment. Both The Lovers and The Wheel of Fortune are nearly complete and The World is well underway and I just started my last card, Strength.

Until recently, the paintings were still flowing; I did not need to think about them nor was I exhausted at the end of the day. These last five paintings are more demanding than the first 17. However, as with anything else I do, once I have committed I will see a project through. I will finish the entire series of 22 Major Arcana, and I have every intention of doing so by the end of the month.

This level of exhaustion reminds me of the result of having harkened to my mentor, Jan Cox, at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Jan said “You cannot think of yourself as a printmaker unless you print an entire edition in one day.” I hand-printed an entire edition of 40 stone lithographs by myself in one day. I went upstairs to the Museum School Gallery, laid my head on the soft stone floor and passed out for four hours.


For an in-depth statement about the genesis and development of the series, please see the project specific statement.

My Statement for the Kabbalah and Tarot Series

The Whole of the Law

The tenth card in the 22 Major Trumps of the Tarot deck is The Wheel of Fortune. All the Major Arcana are crucial when using Tarot cards as a source for synchronistic understanding to gain insight into one’s current place in the Journey of Enlightenment.

However, The Wheel of Fortune is an apt symbol for the randomly divine unfolding of many of life’s events; it means Change, bringing with it positive or negative interpretations, depending on the other cards dealt in the same spread. I have often thought of this card, and the others, as guides to understanding my own life’s tumultuous course since I first became interested in Tarot back in the 70’s.

After nursing my wife on her 10-year progression to death from cancer in 2008, being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010, and, most recently, experiencing my brother’s death at 57, all the while caring for my mother, steadily dying at 96, I couldn’t help but ponder how I came to be where I am. The Major Arcana kept appearing in my sketchbooks, and once again I became a student of these mystical cards.

In late 2012, I learned that my disease had transformed into a deadly form; I needed chemotherapy. While undergoing such treatment, children are often told to imagine their body engaging in an internal battle against the cancer with white blood cells armed with swords and explosives to obliterate tumors. In December of 2012 I found myself engaging in the same violent visualizations – literally seeing my white blood cells transformed into demons attacking my own tumor with sharp teeth and claws.

I spoke to a friend who advised me against this method, explaining that the tumor was a part of me and if someone was coming at me dead set on my destruction, in self-defense I would do my best to kill the other first. If fighting fire with fire was not the answer to remission, I wasn’t sure what was. My friend suggested I ask the tumor what it had to tell me, so I could understand it, and it could leave. I did.

Shortly thereafter I drew a self-portrait. In my drawing I was pictured from the collarbone up with my tumor prominent in my neck. From the tumor I drew lines radiating outwards and spiraling around my neck. I continued to draw that tumor and its rays throughout the course of the next week. It evolved through subsequent from a ganglia-like shape to a mandala-esque manifestation with eight protruding spokes and swirling shapes within. I recognized the shape as a Sephira (Hebrew for Emanation), a nexus in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Some Hermetic Schools of thought believe the Tarot and Sephiroth embody a unified path to Enlightenment.

Tarot is key to understanding Ein Sof (the Infinite) as it materializes through metaphysical paths to form our material universe. For my tumor to repeatedly manifest itself to me as Sephiroth was a revelation, a sign to paint these two interlocking series and to thereby re-engage in the self-discovery and enlightenment that had drawn me to them in the 1970’s.

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Oil paint and the magical realms

Oil paint in the studio. A direct link to my ancestors in the caves of the Dordogne.

20130613-225919.jpg22 by 22 inches / oil on linen

 

My oils of the 22 Tarot Arcanum are manifesting in my studio.

Can I even say that?! I wonder where Master Therion is these days.

Jonathan Herbert oil painting Magus 13o1 30 x 24 inches

Magus 13o1 oil on linen 30 x 24 inches

Comments appreciated. Followers welcomed.

No. I am not dead. I just can’t handle the level of upkeep for social media. I am a gregarious loner.

Starting three, yes three, new series. The 22 Major Arcana of the Tarot; the ten Sephiorth from the Kabbalah tree of life, and a series of landscapes inspired by time in Provence et le Camargue (where, ironically, the Tarot originated, hooey myths notwithstanding.

I’ve been busy with two years of Family Business, a baby brother dropping dead, and my own journey through chemo for TWO Non Hodgkins Lymphomae. (I took Latin.)

Back in the studio with a vengeance. Watch this space for updates.

I’ll start in 1974 with the cover of my Grimoire from Antwerpen.

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BC NIXON version I don’t know what

naked girl, oil painting, Jonathan Herbert, BC NIXON 11o17 latest version 2011o0017.jpg

BC NIXON IN A KIMONO 11o17 latest version 38 x 30 inches Oil, Charcoal, Conte, Oil Stick on Belgian Linen

Jonathan Herbert; March 1953; photographer unknown

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