Brian Williams by Rachel Pollack
When we think of Brian Williamsís work, we think first of his glorious drawings, so varied and delightful. For the moment, however, I want to look at his writing. At one time, people who wrote about Tarot tended towards one of three groups. They explained how to tell fortunes, or they described the cardsí occult meanings, or they researched the Tarotís history. In general, these groups ignored each other, but the last group especially wanted nothing to do with the others. If they acknowledged the fortune tellers and occultists at all it was only to dismiss their ideas as trivial or foolish. Brian Williams is not the only person to change that situation, but he probably has done more to bring the Tarotís factions together than anyone else.
Brian approaches the Tarot as a scholar, an expert on Renaissance art in general, and Tarot art in particular. One of his many achievements is to remind us of the many wonderful strains of Tarot imagery that existed before or alongside the Tarot de Marseille. At the same time, his scholarship is so effective because he truly loves the Tarot. He understands that all its traditions carry meaning, and to work with the cards in any real way requires that we respect them all.
Brian does not just write about Tarot, he does not even just draw it. In a very real sense, he lives it. I do not mean this in some occult way of acting out the cards (in the world of Tarot you have to watch out for literalism at every corner). That would simply be a performance, or worse, a pose. Brian lives the Tarot by making its art and history his lifeís companions. He has raised our field to a renewed understanding of its roots.
Brianís scholarship and writing would be a joy if that was all he gave us. But he is not just an observer, he is a creator. He is of that rarest group, those who can, and do, and also teach. He is first and foremost an artist. His decks are wonderfully varied in style and subject, from the magnificent Minchiate to the outrageous PoMo, yet each one is infused with his great knowledge of art history, and his delight in the possibilities of this strange genre.
His art manages to be simultaneously graceful and muscular, strong and elegant. Much could be said of Brian himself, for his life and art are deeply entwined. People in the Renaissance understood that there is an art to living, and not everyone does it well. Like all art, it takes talent, honesty, and love.
Brian brings to his art and scholarship, and above all the art of his life, wit and grace and raucous humor, and an honest hatred of whatever is evil or deceitful. He is funny and passionate and elegant. Just like his drawings.
As he makes his life an art, so now, incredibly, he is making his dying a fresh gift, of courage and grace, and even joy. He shares memories of his journeys (what a wonderful travel writer he can be!), he tells us of his reading, of his thoughts and his wonder at what will come next, of love that comes to him fresh with tears, of his own loves, and his gratitude for all the dear people in his life.
And as always in Brianís presence, our own lives have just a little more beauty in them through the generosity of his art.
Image © 1994 HarperSanFrancisco
Essay © 2002 Rachel Pollack