Part 2 - Interview with Chris Paradis, Rock and Roll Tarot -- Conducted by Diane Wilkes

Diane:    Please describe the mental process you used in creating the deck. 

Chris:    Certain artists I knew from the beginning -- especially in the Major Arcana and court cards.  The Minor Arcana cards were another matter and were the most difficult part of this project.  I tried to avoid creating a rigid criteria for placement, yet have a set of criteria that allowed me to finish this deck in a single lifetime. 

When I saw the Rock Art tarot listed, I almost stopped work...until I realized that Jimi Hendrix wasn't a petroglyph. 

Diane:     What do you mean by petroglyph?

Chris:        Rock Art Tarot by Jerry Roelen depicts Petroglyphs (images on stone) and I was thinking they had used rock concert posters as imagery in a deck--not cave paintings.

I thought the deck had been done but I knew my concept would be different from traditional cartomancy decks because of the lyrics over the images.  It was important to me that this deck be communicated with meaning, meaning beyond the tarot and music, meaning on a level that could be interpreted on many different levels of consciousness. 

My loose criteria for the cards:

One:  Had to be considered rock and roll or crossover (This one is vague--splitting genre hairs like Folk/Rap/ R&B/Soul is difficult to keep a focused, yet stacked, deck.)

Two: An artist had to have multiple fan sites on the Web. The WWW spoke as an indirect voter poll for many artists.   Seeing the complexity and theme that webpage creators put into sites dedicated to the artists they followed was a good indication that an artist I had in mind was IN. 

Three:  The artist had to lend themselves to the tarot through lyrics or personal imagery--or is the staunchest representative of the particular movement (this is apparent in the Fire suit where influential movements are chronicled). Stevie Wonder might think tarot goes against his beliefs -- but his R&B rock style and Musiquarium image of emotional depth lent him to the tarot concept. Just as Aretha as the Queen of Soul and James Brown as the Godfather of Soul were well suited for the King And Queen of Voice (Fire). 

Or someone like David Bowie an artist whose work you could create an entire deck from...

Four:  A specific image that lent itself to a tarot card, like the Beatles' card or Nirvana as the Hanged Man.  The Six of Guitars started as a newspaper photo I clipped before I started work on the deck -- the lyric was another matter.   

Kurt Cobain--I knew he had to be the Hanged Man.  When I found the image of him being dangled upside down from a rope at a Seattle concert, it was like it was meant to be.  In fact, several Intuitive artist selections took this form - it was like I was being guided by some unseen force.  Or as my friend Marcie saw it, the Universe really wanted this deck to be made.

Diane:  I know just what you mean.  In the Storyteller Tarot, my Hanged One is based on Teena Marie's persona as the Piscean Holocaust.  It wasn't until later that I realized one of her biggest hits is "Out on a Limb"...

Chris:  Personally and logically, I think certain artists just play the archetypal roles with their personae.  That is why we are drawn to them and that is why I drew them into those positions.

My last criteria was, "All criteria are subject to evolve as the project progresses."

Diane:    How did you create the deck?

Chris:   First I would surf the Web for base images that could fit the concept of the card. This process alone would take several non-consecutive hours of research and patience.  If I didn't have a lyric in mind, then I would go ahead and create the card in Photoshop.  Then I would search lyric databases - or buy "Greatest 
Hits" albums for that perfect, crowning lyric. The Minor (Arcana) cards really slowed down the process--they have very subtle shades of meaning ... that I wanted to come across as fun and universal, yet still be effective in a reading. 

The Suit of Voice (Wands) became a vehicle for the innovators - those artists who created a distinct and fiery image for themselves.  The Photoshop process changed throughout as I learned new techniques. The Elvis card is a good example.  I started with the base image--which in this case required Elvis to be sitting--preferably older (Emperor, not a Page).  The photo I found showed him wearing a blue suit, with Priscilla sitting on his lap.  I had to digitally make a red suit and "clone" Priscilla off of The King's knee.  It was quite painful.  For the background I used the central panel of the Ghent Altarpiece - replacing God with Elvis and the Latin with "Love Me Tender."  Each card has around seven to 20 layers of different visual elements. The lyrics (and in the minors, suit icons) were the crowning touches for each card. 

Diane:  Which artistic "touches" are you most proud of--and which (if any) cards would you redo if you could?

Chris:   I changed some of the traditional symbolism to better suit a rock and roll universe. Elvis makes the blessing sign of the Hierophant -- but Sting is caged in by the triple cross as the Rock and Roll Hierophant. Prince's symbol as the pointer on the Wheel card is a fun touch. A Harley as the Rock & Roll Chariot was a must...

I would redo a lot of the cards -- but I am pleased with the final selections in this particular jukebox .  I had to stop changing it at some point.

Diane:  Did you have any personal rituals that you used when creating the cards?

Chris:   Essentially, it was all ritual. Almost four years out of college, I had become very disappointed with the job opportunities in this state (Arkansas).  So the deck was very much an outlet for me, creatively and intellectually.   I guess you could say that every artist makes a tarot card when they create something.  

But doing this deck was truly Art Therapy.   - I was astonished by the ease by which I completed the Major cards.  Stranger than strange, many of the artists came around on tour while I was working on their cards. 

Diane:  That's tarot synchronicity for you.

Chris:  But making the minor cards started a sea change within me -- my personal life really evolved doing these cards -- and I am forever grateful that I could complete it and grow so much doing it.  There won't be anything else quite like it again for me.

Diane:  Do you read the cards, in addition to creating them? 

Chris:  Yes.  The large Thoth deck travels in my car with me.  It is my primary reading deck.  I don't really care for Aleister Crowley.   I tried reading his work and found it like reading stereo instructions. But the paintings on that deck transcend the Esoterica gap and it will always be my first favorite. 

I started collecting theme decks to study them for their art and concept to aid in creating the rock and roll deck. They are, in no particular order, the Alice in Wonderland deck, Barnes & Noble set, Oversized Rider Waite, Shakespearean, Vertigo, Mythic, Adrian, and the Inner Child Cards. 

Diane:  When you first completed the Rock and Roll Tarot, did you do a reading with the deck?

Chris:   I didn't have a "dummy" deck made, so my method in testing the R&R deck was to write all of the lyrics in a sequence to see how they worked together, which led to my changing a few lyrics.  When I 
picked up the eight boxes of decks from the printer, I decided to save the first reading for Marcie Finney, who was my guide and editor near the end of the project (and a bit at the beginning, too).

I always use the spread featured in the booklet that came with the Thoth cards -- the Golden Dawn reading, but I have seen it named differently. It's the one with five bowties.  There are three cards in each bowtie, with the center card influenced by the two cards flanking it.   I don't care for readings where the way the card is turned makes it ill- or well-dignified.  I much prefer the idea of conflicting elements or temperaments affecting a situation.

In the Golden Dawn Reading, this works well.  If a Fire and Water card flank the central card, they are conflicting influences on the central situations.  Things are not so black and white.  Likewise, if there are two Earth cards, the central situation is strengthened by the flanking cards. 

I only remember the overall gist of the reading I did for a good friend, and a few of the key cards.  The Pearl Jam card (Four of Albums) appeared, which showed her need to hang on to material things too tightly.  This was appropriate, as she had just gone through a divorce and a period of having little.  The upper left bowtie showed a pattern of hanging on too tightly to anything she required.   It was an effective reading, and I was pleased with the way it read...

It is also difficult not to reflect on the likelihood of the artists in the reading to ever do a concert together.  Mama Cass and Aretha sounds like a lot of Folk and Soul in your Life Concert!  Silly, yet the serious matters are still apparent.  Folk shows a deeper connection to nature and soul, with getting in touch with one's self and one's own spiritual nature and sense of self-respect--and demanding those things from others.

Diane:   The cards for the Rock and Roll Tarot are thinner and longer than standard tarot cards. Did you choose this format intentionally, or was it the easiest format to have printed? 

Chris:  I had originally planned to make the cards the size of the oversized Thoth deck.  In fact, all of my original test proofs were done in that size. With all of the technical specifications that I acquired just before I finished the deck,  I had to rework my basic layout.  I had originally planned to fit a total of 98 cards in the deck.  But due to the rounded corners and the black bleeding to the edge, it was better to add extra space around the cards...which led to dropping 10 cards, making the card total 88.  I like this number because it's the traditional number of keys on a piano!!   

But more than anything, I like to see the art on tarot cards as large as possible, so that one may walk into them with one's perception.

Diane:   How did you go about finding a printer and self-publishing? 

Chris:  I pitched the concept to US Games from the beginning, but they did not want to deal with the legal matters involve in 78+ copyright dangers.  Then, when the deck neared completion, I had to see it in tangible form, so I decided to self-publish it. 

I called around town.  Most of the calls in Arkansas began and ended with confused laughter. One printshop salesman even asked me if I was "John So-and-So" playing a joke on him when I asked if he could print a 
deck of cards!  Only one printer in-state took me seriously.  Out of State printers' minimum print runs were too high. 

Diane:  Is self-publishing a deck something you would recommend to others? 

Chris:  Yes, make your ideas tangible. 

Diane:  Do you expect to make money on the deck or is it more a labor of love? 

Chris:  Definitely a labor of love.  The printer has encouraged me to make more, but I am set on 500 decks being all that exist, at this point. 

Diane:  Have you any concerns using some non-credited photographs, in terms of copyright?

Chris:    That was a concern from the beginning, but when I ask my lawyer comrades about digital law, they really didn't have much information.  Digital law and digital art is very new in the legal world, and there has been precedent in favor of the artist who creates a new work of art from original sources. 

Diane:   Would you ultimately like a publisher like US Games or Llewellyn to publish the deck? 

Chris:   Publishing this deck for retail purposes would seem impossible at this point, unless I had a team of highly-skilled lawyers at my service. So consider this deck-an underground deck....and a rarity.

Diane:  Several people have compared the Rock and Roll Tarot to the Vertigo, art-wise. How do you feel about that?

Chris:    I take that as a high compliment.  I have studied Dave McKean's art since I started reading The Sandman. His style showed me that you can achieve a blend of the digital and the spiritual. He has been copied and revered, But no artist has surpassed the Master's work. 

 I sent two copies of the deck to CA - one for Mr. McKean's art rep (Allen Spiegel, owner of the Allen Spiegel Fine Arts Gallery) -- and one for him -- not sure if he got it or not.  He is definitely an inspiration to all digital/modern artists.

Diane:   Which of your cards are you most pleased with as tarot archetypes?

Chris:   David Bowie  as the Lovers and the Rolling Stones as The Devil were sparked by Marcie.  I like the dichotomy there. Sting as the Hierophant really resonated for me.  He was going into the priesthood, before he became an English Teacher - he is truly a master of words. The three renamed cards were really a treat to make them exclusive to this deck.  Calling Temperance "The Bridge" made sense because of the word connections:  ARCHItecture/ ARCHEtypes/ARCana.    It would have been doubly odd to call the card ART - since Mr. Garfunkel's image is not there -- but he would be present in name, anyway. 

Libido is Italian--enough said.   Madonna tames the Lion within!!! Again with the Architecture - "The Door" - seemed like a necessary component for a true "house of cards."    I like a lot of them for different reasons, as far as the archetypes go.  What is written above Jung's Door--summoned or not--the God will come.   Rock 
artists are all about Summonings.

Diane:    What has satisfied you most about creating the Rock and Roll Tarot? 

Chris:   Seeing it printed and wondering what happens next. 

Diane:  Have there been any disappointments? 

Chris:  Just the mistakes I found after it was printed.   I heard the Eagles' song on the radio today and realized I left off the Eight of Pentacles from the image!   That is probably the most disappointing mistake, because it was on the image itself. 

Misquoting Pearl Jam is probably the second most disappointing (it says "I change without changing"; it should be "by not changing."  "Without" just looked too good visually - and reflected on the greed keyword in traditional decks.  Like the word was trying to pry the pentacle from Eddie Vedder's clutches. So that is not a complete disappointment. 

I really forced myself to stick to a deadline -- and the deck ended up being printed on Halloween 2000 - which was a nice touch.

Diane:   What are your future plans-tarot-wise? 

Chris:   The Star Wars tarot is always in the Stars--I know I can do it better than most. A Dune tarot would be an amazing challenge.   I have a pretty good idea how to approach that deck, especially since one exists in the third storyline in the series. I will always be a student of the tarot art.

But truly I can say, no other idea kept my interest and attention as long as the Rock and Roll Tarot and I hope my child does well in the world.

Judging from reviews and the opinions of friends in the tarot community, it is safe to say that Chris' child will do quite well in this world--as will this remarkable young man.  If you haven't ordered this unusual deck yet, I urge you to reconsider--as it looks like there will only be 500 made.  And this interview should have convinced you that this deck is well-done on an artistic level AND in keeping with an innovative and thoughtful approach to the tarot--Diane Wilkes

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In July 2004, Tarot Passages caught up with Chris to discuss his new deck, the Circus and Sideshow Tarot:

Diane:     What inspired the Circus and Sideshow Tarot (C&ST)? How did you come up with the idea?

Chris:       I have a circus poster from 1971. I really like the language and mood of this particular poster
featuring the Giraffe necked Women of Burma. I actually came up with the idea while on a road trip to Nashville, and had the basic concept worked out on the way.

Diane:     What holistic connections do you see between tarot and circuses, if any...

Chris:       Tarot is a map of human experience - and I see the circus as a  microcosm of human experience in the entertainment world - so it seemed to fit well together.

Diane:      How is the artistic process different in the C&ST deck from the Rock and Roll Tarot?

Chris:       The copy on the cards is not a lyric - it's show talk - but it must also be relevant to the meaning of the particular tarot card. The cards are still created digitally, but I can photograph models to fit the poses required for each card.

Diane:      How have your views of tarot changed from one deck to the next?

Chris:       I would say they haven't, but I have changed from one deck to the next for sure. The Rock & Roll deck opened my eyes to some things, as far as the reception of that deck is concerned. Collectors selling the Rock and Roll Tarot cards one at a time on eBay was a bit disturbing to me at first, but I realized it was just part of a process. It introduced some people to tarot for the first time - and brought others to a new understanding
of it.

I feel the new deck is a bit lighter and more fun and it allows me more room for creativity (in regards to rock star expectations and tastes).

Diane:      Did you use real models for all of the cards in the C&ST?

Chris:       Some of the cards use models. And some parts of the models are a mix of old clip art and the models who posed. For instance, in the Star card (The Mermaid), the girl who posed had very short hair. I found her "wig" in a clip art book  - basically the hair off of another woman, so it's kind of like digital paper dolls. They matched up better than I thought - and the look gives the cards a modern-vintage feel as far as oxy morons go.

Diane:      What are your plans for completing the deck--do you have a timetable?

Chris:       One card at a time - could take me another year or so...

Diane:       Will you publish it yourself if you can't find a publisher?

Chris:        I have tried the major tarot companies to no avail. I probably won't be financially able to self-publish this deck for some time.

Diane:       Do you have ideas for any other tarot decks percolating in your mind?

Chris:       Always - I truly want to create a Star Wars deck (using the Luke Skywalker trilogy). I'm sure there are others, but they won't be in the forefront until the Circus Tarot is completed.

Diane:      Anything you want to add?

Chris:        I'd like to thank all the people who made the Rock & Roll Tarot a success - and I hope the Circus & Sideshow deck makes its way to become a full-published deck - you can keep track on my Live Journal site.

And there will be a C&ST Flash website coming soon. 

You can read a review of Chris' Rock and Roll Tarot here.

You can read a review of Chris' Circus and Sideshow Tarot here.

Art 2000, 2001 Chris Paradis
Interview and page 2001, 2004 Diane Wilkes