Friday, 12 December 2014

Lorcan Walshe – The Tarot Cards


Lorcan Walshe – The Tarot Cards

Written on November 18th 2014

I first met Lorcan Walshe in 1975.  I had just deserted the conventional life of middle class Dublin and found myself with new associations and new people, including Lorcan and his rather bohemian group, most of whom were students or recent graduates of National College of Art and Design.

Just as I was sowing my wild oats for the second time, he was then sowing his for the first, and I am sure that he will agree that he was doing so with the same energy, enthusiasm and commitment which he was to show later in his painting career.  I feared that he might finish his days as a social anarchist, out to destroy the current world order and himself in the process and perhaps the rest of us too.  However, it was clear to me that he was a person of unusual talent, imagination and ability, and that he had some shreds of a social conscience which even in these early years he could articulate during his more rational moments.

Happily, his energies and talents were soon directed into more creative channels as he followed his true vocation.  I must have been one of the first to acquire his pictures.  I now have a small collection but even this relatively modest number testifies to his extraordinary versatility as an artist – his eclectic themes, his superb draughtsmanship, his wide variety of media, including pen, pencil, crayon, even biro as well as oil, watercolour, acrylic, tempera, pastel and charcoal.  I can truly say that my collection is a constant source of challenge and pleasure, and has enhanced the meaning of my daily life.

The Empress
Those who are familiar with his work appreciate Lorcan’s versatility and understand the political, social, moral, spiritual and aesthetic factors which are the bedrock of his art and his philosophy.  The powerful and traumatic Warrington exhibition, Paradise Lost, based on the theme of the massacre of the innocents and the Warrington tragedy, and his Damascus exhibition testify to his concern about the well-being and future of humanity and to the crucial part art plays in our culture and in our civilization.  I suspect his painting is motivated more by the message he wishes to convey rather than the visual results.  And Lorcan’s holistic interests extend beyond the visual arts to poetry and literature.
The critic, John M. Farrell, wrote of the Warrington exhibition Paradise Lost

If art be but a means of directing us on the journey of revelation then I am confident that it will be artists like Lorcan Walshe who (will) help us to find that inner Paradise Regained.

And we have the symbolism and the political and social messages in his Tarot Cards series with its autobiographical nuances.

The Tower
Richard Cavendish, in his treatise on the Tarot, first published in 1975, praises the ancient cards for their beauty but states that most modern decks are painfully ugly.  He might have been less assertive if he had seen Lorcan’s work.  Cavendish also states that as works of communication the cards’ significance is as mysterious as is their origin.  When I first saw the cards at the launch of Lorcan’s exhibition at Hendricks Gallery in 1985 I was struck by his brilliant portraiture and by his symbolism, and it took me only a moment to beat others to the desk with my cheque book in my hand.

There have been countless Tarot sets published since the fifteenth century and countless symbols invented which cover the entire spectrum of European culture, religion and history.  Most of the symbols have had a local, contemporary and topical as well as a historical connotation but whether the combination of symbols and the unity of cards have a more subtle message is a question I leave to wiser and more insightful analysts.  If I were to attempt a general interpretation of the cards as conceived by Lorcan I would concern myself with the state of the world past, present and future.  I would see in the Devil, the Tower, the Hanging Man, the Day of Judgement, Justice and the World the compelling need for a second coming to shake us out of our complacency about the effect our materialistic secular and wasteful western culture is having on Nature and our planet, and the threat it poses to the survival of future generations.

Western society is in serious denial about the consequences of our failure to live in harmony with nature.  The hubris of Man’s dominance over Nature can only end in Nemesis unless the artist’s of this world can give the lead to bring us back in balance with the wonderful God given surroundings of this planet Earth.  Perhaps Lorcan’s cards may show us the way.

The Major Arcana in the words of the artist

I work towards paintings which function primarily on two levels.  The discipline and technology of painting fascinate and challenge me: and I bring this to bear on a wide variety of materials: oil, acrylic, tempera, pastel and charcoal.  The more familiar that I become with these materials the more possibilities they present.

My other main area of concern is the human condition and the extraordinary beautiful and brutal way it manipulates itself and its environment.  In my paintings I seek a structure where this phenomenon can be explored.  To achieve this it is sometimes necessary to develop the images of a personal mythology or at other times I re-interpret an established mythology – as in the Tarot series.

Nobody knows where Tarot cards originate although there are suggestions that Egypt, China or India is the birthplace of these enigmatic images.  Certainly influences from all of these places had been used by the designers of the earliest cards.

The packs which finally emerged, more or less in their present from in the fourteenth century, were probably developed from those which were carried by gypsies during their periodic westerly migrations.

I became interested in the Tarot through the writings of Carl Jung, and surmised that the cards were intrinsically a map of the subconscious.

In the Major Arcana (the first 22 of the 78 Tarot cards), Jung thought that this was the archetypical journey through life: each card describing a particular aspect of the psyche.

To me, the Major Arcana became a symbolic structure which would enable me to portray the human condition in an autobiographical manner.

Over two years I studied and meditated on the Tarot cards and learnt to interpret them from an Italian lady who had studied them while staying with gypsies in India.  During 1986 I made the first five paintings of the series in Dublin and completed the remaining seventeen paintings during an intense period of work when I stayed at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in February and March of 1987.

I decided to paint the Major Arcana on a miniature scale in accordance with the tradition of transmitting powerful visual messages from a limited surface area.  I used imagery from the History of Art and from the Twentieth Century in combination with established symbolism of the Major Arcana.  I included portraits of acquaintances that embodied the particular archetype a card represented.  As numerous versions of the Tarot had been made over the centuries, it was the symbolism of the older Marseilles pack and the relatively recent Waite Rider version that had been primarily used.  Occasionally all traditional imagery has been abandoned and replaced with relevant modern symbolism, (i.e. The Tower – in the background is the Hiroshima Dome).

It is unnecessary for the viewer to have knowledge of the Major Arcana in order to respond to these paintings.  The Tarot is designed to stimulate an intuitive response and the ancient symbols which they contain are essentially subliminal devices which activate the imagination.

The completed work of twenty two pieces is grouped together as a unit.  Within this work are contained political, mystical, sexual, religious and aesthetic interpretations of a reality which presents itself to me

The Tarot cards are in private hands but readers of the blog may see them if they attend a reception at 3pm on Saturday the 17th of January 2015. For an invitation you need to send your email address and telephone number to Lisa, the editor of the blog at

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