Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Campy Gloom

The Bohemian Gothic Tarot Designed by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov. Published by Magic Realist Press, 2008.

Historical Significance: Nil
Artistic Appeal: Most High
Symbolic Resonance: High
Evocative Potential: Most High

This is my all time favorite Tarot deck to use. It's evocative, mesmerizing, and moody. It gives (or allows for) nuanced readings. Its images are meaningful as well as beautiful. The images draw the eye in and entrance the mind.

Although the images are darkly Gothic, the readings feel gentle, if sharply insightful. This contrasts with those old woodblock decks from the 17th and 18th Centuries, whose readings can feel heavy, dualistic, and bluntly ruthless. The images and symbols in those old decks have an actual medieval feel and outlook. The images and symbols in the Bohemian Gothic Tarot are only superficially Gothic (there are a lot of bones and skulls) but the details (and the images are quite detailed) are sudtle and complex. While there is use of symbol, meaning is coveyed more by the mood of each image. I have never worked with a deck in which so much can be gleaned from the delicately elusive facial expressions of the figures.

I admire the artist/designers. They clearly spent a lot of time on the artwork. Overall, images evoke the feeling of a gothic romance or a campy but mysterious old horror movie. Some of the images appear to be directly influenced by old movies. The images are never gory or repulsive, they all seem to draw the viewer in and leave you daydreaming about the story behind it. Each card seems to have its own story. Every time I look at one of these cards, I have the feeling I am looking through a window, seeing just one small part of something much larger and mysterious.

The symbols and meanings of the cards are only nominally of the Rider-Waite tradition. Some cards present a visual allusion to that tradition. With other cards, the images are wholly unique without apparent reference to previous decks. In most cases, the meanings, as defined in the accompanying book, appear to derive, at least in part, to the occult tradition that spawned the ubiquitous Rider-Waite, but also make clear reference to the image on the card. I can't say that I fully appreciate the subtle symbolism in every image, but it seems clear to me that much thought and care went into every design.

Karen Mahony and Alex Ukulov both live in Prague, but neither of them are natives. Mahony is from Dublin originally, then lived in London after the age of 17. Ukulov is an ethnic Russian from Yalta in the Crimea. They both came to Prague on what appeared to be parallel spiritual journeys. They met in Prague where they fell in love with the city and with each other. Their first Tarot deck they collaborated on was the Tarot of Prague.

Mahony's background is web design. Alex is a photographer and an acolyte of photoshop. They are both artists. Their method is to take original photographs and combine parts of various images into a seamless and naturalistic scene. They are methodical and very thoughtful in this work. Mahony works mostly on composition while Ukulov works on the details of bringing the image components together. You can read their interview on Aecletic Tarot: Interview with Karen Mahony and Alex Ukulov.

Overall, I enjoy using this deck very much. I ended up buying this deck twice (new) because my first deck was left out in the rain.