Matt Myer's Art Nouveau Tarot has a very special spot on my deck shelf. As a big fan of 80's art and Tarot decks (and everything else 80's actually!) I had to snaffle one of these beauties up for my collection. It's an amazing deck with a totally unique vibe and when I randomly met Matt Myers online I knew I had to convince him to pop on over for an interview and a hang out! :D
Your Art Nouveau Tarot Deck is one of my favourite decks ever. Where did the idea for this deck come from?
When I graduated from art school (Ringling College), I had three career goals and creating a Tarot deck was one of them. I already had an interest in Tarot and had been reading cards for myself and some of my fellow friends and students since High School.
Most of the decks I saw were published by U.S. Games Systems, so I did some samples and approached them to see if they might be interested enough to commission a deck from me. They had the idea to do a “Gustave Mucha” deck, but I convinced them to do an “Art Nouveau” deck which would capture the style without mimicking any particular artist of the period.
To be frank, I’m not sure I was successful in that goal – Art Nouveau certainly influenced the design choices I made, but as you can see, there is more of the 80s in the deck than the 10s – and probably more of the transition from Nouveau to Deco than purely Art Nouveau. I think this has contributed to the fact the deck is now out of print. It really isn’t one thing or the other and the title doesn’t really reflect what it is.
The goal for the deck I DO think I achieved is the intensity of color. It has changed a bit now with the huge variety of deck options, but when I began the artwork, other decks I saw were flat and somewhat washed out. I wanted to do something with more brilliance. I think the intensity of color in my deck is its most successful aspect and continues to be unique.
The first time I saw these cards I was blown away by the artwork. How did you get into art?
Like most artists, I drew from an early age and always wanted to have a career as an artist. Growing up in the American Midwest, artistic careers are not encouraged or even considered a possibility, but I managed to be stubborn enough to attend Ringling College and graduate as an Illustration major. I moved to New York City and gave myself five years to have success in the field. If it didn’t happen, I was prepared to move in a different direction and allow art to be hobby.
The Art Nouveau Tarot was one of my first jobs and helped me to convince myself a career as an artist would be possible.
How long did it take you to create this deck?
I worked on this deck from 1983 to 1987. I was working full-time in New York, first as an office temp and then as a legal word processor. The deck was my “second job”. Each of the individual paintings are 5” x 9”. There are 81 total – the 78 + a Title card, an Introduction card (which was directed to be a self-portrait) and the design for the reverse. In addition, the lettering was created by hand because the art director was struggling to find authentic Art Nouveau-styled type-faces.
The deck was originally intended to be printed in a larger size with an accompanying book. When it was commissioned in the early 80s, Tarot had become very trendy. By the time the deck was finished, interest had died down a bit so the project was scaled down.
I actually repainted several of the images during the process because my painting ability improved and I switched mediums from acrylic to oil. It’s a bit difficult for me to look at the deck now because I see things I would do differently, being older and a more capable painter. I see the struggle in the work, both in the rendering and in the attempt to communicate an idea. I’m always gratified to read a review where someone “gets” what I was trying to say because, in hindsight, I see how I might have been more successful in capturing the essence of the card.
The minors in this deck are a little different to the RWS and any other minors I’ve seen for that matter. Could you tell us a little bit about how you came at the minors?
I had always been interested in the Rider-Waite interpretations, but I had an idea there should be some connection or progression within the suites with each pip making a progression from what came prior and leading to what came after. The indicated interpretations of my deck are exactly the same as Rider-Waite even though the images are not. I worked to place those divinatory meanings into the context of a story-line and let the plot be driven by those definitions. The stories are briefly covered in the deck booklet and were more fully developed in the unpublished book. It was also important to me the reverse meanings were either different interpretations of the same idea or an alternate choice relative to the same situation.
I would like to point out that I tried to be more balanced with gender roles than is customary. The action in the Swords and Staves is driven by the male while the Cups and Coins have the male in the passive role. Even though the costuming is very stereotypical (and very dated at this point despite my best efforts) I tried to treat the male and female images equally as far as nudity and sexualisation are concerned. This has led many people to look at this deck as a Woman’s deck or a Gay deck. I see why the deck is perceived that way, but my intention was to address and possibly correct what I saw as an imbalance in that area.
I might also admit that one way I feel my deck fails completely is in the depiction of ethnic diversity. I tried to figure out a way to incorporate it, but it interfered with the idea of letting the pips play out as a story with the same repeated characters. I would have had to assign entire suites to an ethnicity. I couldn’t figure out how to do that without implying the certain characteristics of a suite described that ethnic group. So I gave up and made everyone vanilla because that is what I happen to be. And even if I did depict a variety of ethnicities, I would not have been able to represent all, so I decided to leave it as limited as it is. Still, I consider it a failing.
Which card in this deck best describes you?
The Hermit, no question. The Hermit has always been my Significator.
I love everything 80’s, and this deck is just so 80’s! What’s your favourite 80’s movie?
My favorite movie from the 80s actually has nothing to do with the 80s. I saw “The Trip to Bountiful” on a first date (mistake) and cried so freaky hard my date was convinced I was unstable and there wasn’t a second date. The movie is set in Texas in the 40s and is about an elderly woman living unhappily with her son and his wife in Houston. She has the goal of returning to the town where she grew up and raised her family – Bountiful. It’s such a perfect representation of longing and the intensity of desire in the face of opposition and what we become willing to settle for in the process.
If I were to pick my favorite movie that represents the time, it would be “Sixteen Candles” – so totally 80s!
Favourite 80’s song?
I listened to a lot of music in the 80s. At the time, I didn’t own a TV and the stereo was always on. I can’t tell you my favorite, but I can tell you I listened to a lot of Alison Moyet/Yaz, Sade, Eurythmics, Crowded House (anything Finn brothers), the Smiths/Morissey, Bryan Ferry, Kate Bush, Shawn Colvin, Kirsty MacColl – all people I still listen to. I tend to be pretty faithful to my likes.
How do you personally believe the Tarot works? Do you believe that it can tell fortunes and futures? When you’re asking the Tarot questions, who are you asking?
I believe that nature has a pattern. The shape of a tree is similar to a river system or the nervous system of an animal. The earth is shaped like an orange or a drop of water falling through space or an eye. All things in nature repeat patterns that are familiar to each other. I think human nature is the same.
Our behaviour and emotions follow natural patterns. Sometimes we get trapped in the pattern we inhabit and can’t see events in our lives in any other way. We are so accustomed to defining our experience of life in a certain specific manner and are blind to any other way of seeing.
I think the images of Tarot are an attempt to capture the pattern of life and our human experience in a manner that can be held in your hand. When the cards fall the way they do, whether random or with some driving force, they ask us to examine our lives in a different form. “This is your Heart, this is your Head, this is your Home” – now consider these things from the viewpoint of the card that has naturally fallen into that position. Does it give you a new perspective on the way you define that aspect of your life, especially with a Reader who is neutral regarding the subtle, intimate, possibly secret details known only to you. If you are open to considering this new pattern, a new way of looking at your question, you may find a piece of your answer. I’ve sometimes described the cards as a stack of photo slides. You hold up the slide of your question, you overlap it with the description depicted in the card, you look at the new pattern made – does it give insight you didn’t have before because the things you see have altered from the way you had become accustomed to seeing them?
Whether there is a Something directing the answer, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t discount the possibility, but I don’t attempt to define it. Some people are uncomfortable with the Spiritual aspect assigned to a reading and I think approaching it from an emotional or practical standpoint is valid as well – whatever helps the Questioner feel comfortable.
Regardless, I do ask for respect for the cards before each reading so the Questioner enters into a state of considerate alertness. It isn’t necessary for them to completely BELIEVE, just that they agree to momentarily somewhat suspend disbelief. I ask them to make an attempt to listen without judgement and consider the reading, not just in the moment (when it can be abrupt or shocking or odd or seem unrelated), but more deeply and thoroughly when they are alone and quiet – because all natural things, including our lives, don’t exist without relationship. I also ask for payment of some sort, something of value (not necessarily money), because the questioner needs to make a gift of some kind to connect to the process. If they must consider a price for the reading, they are forced to become mentally involved – they have tangibly assigned value to the experience which is an important requirement for success.
Something I find interesting is my experience that people who come to a reading with a more practical mindset often experience the most emotional response. Maybe it’s because they are not so accustomed to examining the emotional patterns of their lives. I am also constantly surprised at the frequency of the times where I describe an interpretation which makes absolutely no sense to me but is afterward explained to me by the Questioner. It always amazes me because I have to admit I am a very sceptical, common sense person. But you have to surrender now and again to the experience of seeing the world in a new pattern other than the one you believe you are living. It helps you remember that life is bigger than you and full of things you know you don’t know and also things you don’t even know you don’t know. And it validates the notion that most of life is defined not by some immoveable reality but rather by how we ourselves define it.
What’s your favourite Tarot deck? (Aside from the Art Nouveau deck of course!)
When I started my deck, I was really impressed with the Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini. Now, I really like a lot of the decks published by Lo Scarabeo. They have several decks with historic art styles I find interesting.
Do you have any advice for budding artists and deck creators?
Be prepared to devote a LOT of time. Seventy-eight paintings/drawings are a challenge to complete. On top of that, the requirement to communicate 78 separate ideas plus 78 reversals is daunting. I also found the card I was working on tended to influence my experience of life, so that can be a little schizophrenic – and in the case of certain cards, somewhat dangerous – so beware of that.
I would also consider self-publishing, or at least presenting a publisher with a completed deck. Most of the things I am not happy with regarding Art Nouveau Tarot are things that were “art-directed” by the publisher rather than my own personal expression. And I certainly felt the pressure of the deadline which made some of the cards rushed and not well considered. My contract was also “work-for-hire” which means I surrendered the original art at the completion of the project. If I still retained the originals, I would be able to publish an “improved” deck independent of U.S. Games now that they have chosen not to reprint and the publishing rights have reverted to me. As it is, the lack of access to the paintings means the images in the deck remain as they are and I am content to let it pass.
What are you working on these days? Can we expect another deck from you in the future?
My artistic life took a pretty drastic about ten years ago and I have been working primarily as a Costume Designer. Before that, I had been working mostly for the hospitality industry, doing paintings and murals for restaurants, hotels, cruise ships, etc. I had always participated in theatre and the mural work transitioned into theatrical drops/sets and then into costume. Right now, I’ve begun to do Wearable Art which combines a lot of my interests and abilities. I had always thought my interests were too scattered, but now, all those talents that seemed to take me down different paths have all merged together. It’s been very gratifying.
Sometimes I consider doing another deck, one that is more mature with more depth and complexity. I’ve also considered using Tarot as a theme for Wearable Art. Will I actually do it? I honestly don’t know. It’s such a huge commitment.
How can we find out more about you and your artwork?
I’m currently working on a website for myself. It’s something I’ve know I should have done a long while ago – it would likely have made a difference to my artistic career. But as you might guess from someone who identifies with the Hermit, I have trouble making that outward effort a priority. Once it’s up, the website will be www.mattmyers.gallery. I don’t know if it will include any of my paintings or murals or even anything from Art Nouveau Tarot. Right now, it’s intended to be mostly Wearable Art and costumes, but it will be interesting to see where it goes.
The Art Nouveau is sadly out of print, but keep your eyes out around online and you may be able to find a deck of your own!
Thanks for hanging out Matt!