Ethereal Visions: Explorations in Tarot and Art Nouveau with Matt Hughes

by Marianne in ,


If there's one thing I like as much as discovering new and interesting tarot decks, it's having tarot artists come and visit me on the blog and talk about their work, so today, I'm pretty stoked!

Artist Matt Hughes is undertaking to create the lush, Art Nouveau inspired Ethereal Visions Tarot, which looks - if I do say so myself - delicious

This deck is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, and with just a week of the campaign to go, Matt is stopping by to share a little about his art practice, Art Nouveau, and how the tarot deck came about.

Hi Matt! Before we talk tarot, could you tell us a little bit about your artistic background and your work?

I hold a BFA but am a self-taught fine artist. For the past few decades I have been exploring various mediums and techniques focusing mainly on the work of artists from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Their methods for conveying the human form and emotion are fascinating and I feel this time period has showcased some of the most provocative exploration of the subject to date. I first began researching this time period using mixed mediums such as watercolor with colored pencil. My first art book from 2001 showcased this technique of mixed media. Then I began to explore traditional Oil painting techniques and focused on the works of artists such as John Singer Sargent, Herbert Draper and John William Waterhouse. This period of my research culminated into my second art book that came out in 2014. For the past few years I have been focused on refining my technique and have returned to mixed mediums in an effort to practice the methods used during the Art Nouveau movement of Europe. I feel every step that I have taken in the past has led me to this style and I am enjoying the pursuit!

Tell us about Art Nouveau - what is it about this unique style and philosophy that has captured your imagination?

The Art Nouveau movement was spawned from a need to express beauty to all walks of life in a way that moved art from the gallery into the home. Their approach of “art is beauty and beauty is art” is an important message for today’s world. From a personal artistic endeavor, I see their work ethic, craftsmanship, and approach to the limitations of the printing medium of that area to be an inspiration. In today’s digital world it has become far too easy for an artist to take the quick approach to art (especially those practicing Art Nouveau). The majority of Art Nouveau work that I see today is approached as novelty or a “disposable” form of art. Some artists do produce their work by hand but then bring the line work into the computer to colorize it.

If one were to look at the original works of the Art Nouveau artists of the past one would see mistakes, mistakes that make that piece of art personal and real. We have lost that to a degree. The approach to Art Nouveau today has become a sort of puzzle game in which commonly recognized elements of that movement (circles, arch ways, flowers, macaroni hair) are incorporated into standard poses in an effort to create Art Nouveau. I feel it is important for artists to recognize, much like the Symbolism movement or the Pre-Raphaelite movement, that these elements were used with purpose for the piece. For example – the archway behind most of Alphonse Mucha’s figures represents the Female or the Divine. The wings or feathers so common in Mucha’s work represented enlightenment or spiritual connection. Then add to this the basic elements of design used in Art Nouveau (mainly the 3 to 5 ratio and the desire to convey nature’s balanced perfection in all aspects) and you can quickly see that Art Nouveau is far more than a simple seated figure covered in cloth sitting in front of an archway. It can be that if done correctly but it also has so much more potential that I am still in the process of learning. This is why I am so devoted to studying Art Nouveau.

How did you happen upon the notion to bring together tarot and Art Nouveau, and how have these two art forms informed and fed off each other during this creative process?

The catalyst for this project was my wife, Hope. For years she has been asking me to produce a tarot deck for her that was more artistic and original than what she was finding currently available. I listened but felt I was not ready to approach such a task as a full 78 card deck until I was more comfortable with a chosen technique. Then last year I began working more with inks and found a technique that I wanted to explore further. I tried a few tarot cards in this style and received a great response so I decided to explore it further with this Kickstarter campaign. The symbolism in the tarot cards lends itself perfectly to Art Nouveau. This is a journey for myself as well since I was unfamiliar with tarot cards prior to this campaign. Every card that I approach has to be researched and developed so that I stay as true as possible to the cards as the community understands them. The meanings of each are very helpful when developing the concepts. Thankfully my wife is helping with this exploration and is teaching me the meanings as we go.

Looking at the deck itself, what can we expect to see from the Ethereal Visions Tarot?

The ETHEREAL VISIONS TAROT DECK will be a full 78 card deck based off of the Rider-Waite deck and style. With my experience in the publishing industry I knew I wanted to do something more unique than a “print on demand” approach with the deck. Therefore, the cards will be high quality in every way – upgraded card stock with premium “snap” when shuffling, easy size for handling, larger text for readability, and finally gold foil stamping as opposed to gold ink or prism-paper. To be honest, finding a printer capable of handling this deck was a challenge in itself. Many printers wouldn’t even quote the job! But it was essential to me to produce a deck that I can be proud of years from now – not just in regards to the art but also the quality of the product.

The process for producing each card was originally a challenge but has now become second nature. Each card begins with a concept sketch that I then send to a small private group I have put together – an advisory board if you will. This group of tarot card enthusiasts give me pointers and catch any elements that are off or missing. Then I enlarge the sketch and begin work on the refined line drawing. Next I transfer the line drawing to the illustration board via carbon paper. Next comes the application of color with soft pastels and ink. Once that stage is complete I apply the 18 karat gold leafing to the design. Finally, I scan in the original, color correct it, clean up any issues and hand select out the gold leafing areas (this will be needed by the printer). Then I share with the community with my figures crossed!

I have been asked if this project will continue regardless of the success of the Kickstarter. Unfortunately, if the Kickstarter is unsuccessful I will have to move on to other projects. The time involved in such a project would not be possible if unfunded.

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On that note, if Art Nouveau is up your alley, please do consider backing this project before Monday, 1st August, and helping to bring this beautiful deck into the world!

You can also find out more about Matt and his work at his website.