Categotry Archives: art

by

Lost Envoy: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare – Edited by Jonathan Allen

No comments yet

Categories: art, chaos, tarot

Lost Envoy coverThe prospect of a long lost tarot deck designed by Austin Osman Spare is a tantalising one, and for this reader at least, guaranteed a rush to the Strange Attractor Press preorder page. Once it was finally released and it turned up in the mail I had made it all the way to the “what the hel is this package” phase.

If the thought of a Spare-designed tarot deck makes you imagine classic Sparean images, all crisp phantasmagorical lines against a white background, then temper your expectations. The look of the cards is a denser one than that, with the style, while obviously in Spare’s hand, being more traditional, and made heavier with a thorough use of watercolour washes on both figures and backgrounds. The deck is also arguably more traditional than either Crowley’s Book of Thoth, or anything one might expect from the proto-Chaote that is Spare, with the Major Arcana images obviously drawing, for the most part, on the atu of the Tarot de Marseille and its antecedents. The Minor Arcana, on the other hands, reveals the cartomantic roots of Spare’s praxis, adopting the suits of traditional playing cards and adding four court cards of queen, king, knight and knave to each set. Perhaps the strongest diversion from convention, though, is the text heavy nature of the hands, with Spare scrawling interpretations and instructions at the foot and head of each card, reflecting the orientation of the reading.

But first, the provenance of this deck and why it was lost. To the latter question first, it wasn’t so much lost, and instead has been sitting quite contentedly for over 70 years in the collection of the Magic Circle, the famed London organisation for those magicians of the stage, and not the ritual chamber, variety. Editor Jonathan Allen, a curator at the Magic Circle museum, rediscovered the archived deck in 2013 and this volume reproducing the cards and featuring commentary from a number of essayists, provides the first broad exposure of Spare’s tarot.

The written contributions in Lost Envoy take two forms: archival documentation and analysis. The former includes Spare’s Mind to Mind and How, by a Sorcerer and Arthur Ivey’s Tarot Cards and a Pack in The Magic Circle Museum from the November 1969 issue of the Magic Circle’s in-house magazine The Magic Circular. Spare’s essay is an unpublished submission for the long running London Mystery Magazine, and provides a practical guide to cartomancy as well as giving a sense of the methods behind the creation of this deck. Ivey’s brief essay uses half of its two page length as a history of the tarot which prefaces an all too brief description of Spare’s tarot, creating a museum catalogue entry as it were.

Given that the two documents provide the only extant historical information about Spare’s tarot and his methods, they are referenced extensively in the accompanying essays, creating something of a sense of déjà vu. This is exacerbated by the ultimately limited amount of things that can be said about Spare’s tarot, meaning that many of the same points are familiarly made across multiple essays. Both Helen Farley and Gavin Semple’s contributions cover the provenance of the deck and Spare’s nascent involvement in the occult milieu of Victorian London, each then followed with a little analysis of some of the cards and their characteristics. A more focused consideration of the cards themselves is provided by Phil Baker’s His Own Arcana, with his points ably reinforced with the inclusion of full colour images of the trumps and full bleed plates of details.

The Deputation by Sally O’Reilly takes a different approach from its companions, with an imagined encounter between Spare and his friend, the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. Spare and Pankhurst sit and engage in witty banter about his cards, with her queries allowing him to provide the explanatory exegesis. It’s a diversion whose mileage may vary depending on one’s patience for the conceit of words put into the mouths of historical figures; especially given that their tone and mores are inevitably predicated by the lens of today.

The final essay comes from Alan Moore who, with A Cartomantic Mirror, provides a pretty exhaustive tarot reading of the meaning and intention of Spare’s deck using, and it gets pretty damn meta here, Crowley and Harris’ Thoth deck. Again, no expense has been spared and the cards drawn from the Crowley/Harris deck are reproduced here in full colour, with some key atu each given a page to themselves.

The essays take up only half of this volume’s 336 pages and the remainder is comprised of reproductions of Spare’s cards. These are presented first as full pages reproductions of each of the major and minor arcana, and then followed by six examples of the various coloured card backs. For extra thoroughness, the cards are then presented again in a concordance that transcribes all of the textual data found on the cards, one page for each, along with a listing of marginal links that tie one card to another, and meticulous footnotes providing still further information. Between some of these individual pages are full colour folded inserts of some of the cards, showing the way in which Spare graphically linked the designs together across multiple spreads. This is one of those things that reveals the attention to detail that has gone into producing this volume, with an almost unnecessarily thorough presentation of the data.

Lost Envoy has been designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio, with a cover that appears a strange, jarring melange of geometric colour until one realises, as this late junction, that it shows a cascade of Spare’s multi-coloured card backs. The book is bound with, apparently, a period binding common to many of the volumes found in The Magic Circle library, with a gold deboss of Spare’s autographic bird’s head sigil (no, not the cool vulture one, the one that looks like Montgomery Burns). The text formatting inside the book is not entirely satisfying, with the body copy rendered in a far too modern sans serif typeface which isn’t conducive to reading and gives the impression, false though it may be, of text being dumped in from a Word document with Calibri set to default. With this are awfully snug header and footer margins, due to the page numbering being put on the outer edge, which again, and contrary to the intent, feels like the default settings in a Word doc, rather than something carefully designed. Otherwise, a lot of effort has gone into the production of this book, with the cover text debossed (and the aforementioned sigil debossed and foiled too), a beautifully raised emboss on the inside cover page bearing the Magic Circle logo, not to mention the preponderance of colour prints and the inserted replicas of cards.

With its repeated representation of the cards in Spare’s deck in both graphic and textural forms, it’s clear that the intent of this book is one of complete and thorough documentation, in which the cards are presented in the best possible light for posterity. Whether anyone is going to read the transcribed page for each card isn’t the point, and this reviewer certainly didn’t. Instead the point is that it’s there should one need it. In this way, the essay content is almost secondary, and it is the cards themselves that tell the story.

Lost Envoy was made available in two editions: a standard hardback edition still available with 336pp pages, fully illustrated in colour, with over 200 images. And a now sold out numbered and debossed edition of 300 copies, with fold-out sections.

Published by Strange Attractor Press

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Fiddler’s Green: Peculiar Parish Magazine (Volume 1, numbers 3 and 4)

No comments yet

Categories: art, folk, witchcraft

I must admit to being unaware of Fiddler’s Green before receiving copies from publisher Clint Marsh, but one look at these two issues and it was a “where have you been all my life” type thing. Fiddler’s Green is described as “art and magic for tea-drinking anarchists, convivial conjurors and closeted optimists,an appealing cadre to be a part of, even if my tea-drinking is minimal at best. This brief is perfectly reflected in the style, illustration and formatting, with a look that is evocative of something one could imagine sitting alongside Jimmy Cauty’s Lord of the Rings poster, or the work of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat; indebted as it is, like them, to the stylings of Art Nouveau and the pen and ink drawings of Arthur Rackham.

If there’s one word to describe Fiddler’s Green, it’s ‘delightful.’ The small press feel, the whiff of a village newsletter, the smack of leather on willow… you get the idea. Each of the issues is a saddle-stitched, stapled magazine of 35-45 letter-sized pages, bound in a muted green coloured card, with everything rendered in black and white, save for the foiled title on the cover.

Editor Clint Marsh presumably provides much of the written content here, with a handful of the contributions being uncredited. These are often reflective musings based around little themes: bibliophilia, artistic process, creative thinking – all things one could enthusiastically support and subscribe to the newsletter thereof.

In addition to these credited and uncredited contributions, and alongside writings from authors unknown at least to me, there are a couple of familiar faces. Timothy Renner of Stone Breath provides illustrations to a piece by Kenneth MacKriell in the fourth issue, while Daniel Schulke contributes a eulogy to Michael Howard in number 3. Indeed, Schulke and Three Hands Press never seems that far away, with the imprint, amongst others, punctuating the volumes with adverts. The formatting also has a similar aesthetic to many of Three Hands Press titles, with that beloved combination of woodcuts and archaic typefaces.

There’s no persistent theme to Fiddler’s Green, other than a fulfilment of the broad and charming mission statement. There are elements of witchcraft and folk magic, but by no means in an all-pervasive manner. There’s a certain reflective and philosophical attitude, but again this doesn’t dominate. And there’s a palpable sense of spirit of place and landscape. In all, it perhaps lives up to that othertimely aura that permeates from cover to cover, redolent of Victorian and fin de siècle journals, fitting written companions for salon and parlour.

Each issue concludes with a couple of regular features: letters to the editor (usually pretty unanimous praise for previous issues) and a review section. In the third issue, the reviews are something of a revelation, focusing predominantly on zines and other small press outputs, an area I feel woefully unaware of. In the fourth, it is books attract the reviewer’s attention with a certain degree of crossover with the content and themes found here at Scriptus Recensera.

Fiddler’s Green is published occasionally by Wonderella Printed and can, along with other exquisite publications, be ordered from www.fiddlersgreenzine.com/shop

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

by

Black Mirror 0: territory

No comments yet

Categories: art, magick

black_mirror_0This new series is the product, in collaboration with Fulgur, of Black Mirror, a new research network based at the Arts University Bournemouth, which explores the influence and role of enchantment, the occult, magic and esotericism in modernist and contemporary arts in an international context. Its contributions are peer-reviewed by an editorial board comprised of Judith Noble and Dominic Shepherd of Arts University Bournemouth, Daniel Zamani of Trinity College, Cambridge, Amy Hale of Golden Gate University, Robert Ansell of Fulgur Esoterica, Gavin Parkinson of the Courtauld Institute, Jesse Bransford of the State University of New York and Ulli Seegers of Heinrich Heine University of Dusseldorf.

In their introduction, Judith Noble, Dominic Shepherd and Robert Ansell set out the intent of this new venture, touching in particular on the intersection of Surrealism and the occult and using this as a methodological blueprint for the now. As its subtitle suggests, this first volume of Black Mirror is concerned, fittingly, with the mapping of contested territories in art and occultism, places occupied not just by artists and occultists, but by academics too.

Jesse Bransford’s Lifting the Veil: Esoteric Interpretations of Seven Contemporary Artists does as the title says and gives two pages, one for text, the other for an image, to seven contemporary artists: Alex Jovanovich, Karsten Krejcarek, Rebecca Forgac, Afruz Amighi, Juliet Jacobson, Matt Greene, and the duo of Ryan Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz. Like many of the artists featured in Black Mirror, these seven do not always have explicit or obvious connections with esoterica, no sigils, steles or Spare-style phantasms here, but Bransford does an expert job of teasing out the various metaphysical themes encoded in their work.

From Mondrian to Charmion von Wiegand: Neoplasticism, Theosophy and Buddhism by Massimo Introvigne is a more traditional artist study, dealing first with Mondrian whose esoteric affiliations should be familiar to most occultists, before turning to his friend and fellow Theosophist, Charmion von Viegand. This is an enjoyable but all too brief account of both artists, with the colour images, particularly those by Mondrian, highlighting the profoundly magickal effect that apparently simply blocks of colour can have.

Piet Mondrian - Evolution, 1911

Quite possibly the highlight of this edition is The Fool and the Mirror: Concerning the Relations between Art, Magic and the Academy, in which Julian Vayne addresses the idiosyncratic numbering of this first volume by considering the Fool, designated 0 in the tarot. In many ways, this is a sequel to Judith Noble, Dominic Shepherd and Robert Ansell’s earlier introduction to Black Mirror as it reiterates the philosophy of the publication and the metaphysics that underlie its symbolism. Vayne uses the symbolism of the Fool to broadly approach a number of issues, the most interesting of which is the peculiar place that practicing occultists might find themselves in a world where occultism has become an acceptable and increasingly popular subject for academia. Vayne naturally sees Black Mirror as part of this dialogue between magick and the academy and hopes that it can be a place where occultism and the art it produces can be rigorously and respectfully analysed by practitioners and non-practitioners alike.

Elsewhere, in The Secret Life of Objects, Marie von Heyl is interviewed by Daniel Zamani, accompanied by several full page plates of the repurposed found objects from her Occasional Table Series. Surrealism is a touchstone in this interview and also come in to focus in Gavin Parkinson’s Surrealism’s Popular Occultism: From H. P. Lovecraft to H. Rider Haggard. Here, Parkinson’s lengthy consideration is more concerned with matters literary than visual arts, looking at Lovecraft and other pulp writers and how their personal mythology of cosmic devolution appealed to the Surrealists.

With its 124 octavo-sized pages, the content in Black Mirror is by no means exhaustive. Essays run to ten pages on average, including full page illustrations and references. As with many of the works that come via Fulgur, there is a certain dryness to the content here, with a drive for respectability that means some of the classless less sophisticated glamour of occultism doesn’t get a look in.

Black Mirror is presented in a cloth-bound octavo format of 124 pages, with a dust jacket featuring a wraparound image of Jeremy Deller’s installation project Sacrilege. The internal stock is a weighty matte, and the end papers are a high-gloss black that create the black mirror of the title. The standard edition runs to 600 copies, with a special AV issue of 300 coming with a DVD of Marie von Heyl’s work, WYSIWYG.

Published by Fulgur.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS