Tarot of the Black Flamingo by Maria Kruse
Review by Diane Wilkes

Maria Kruse first came to my notice through her Fractal Firebird Tarot, an abstract deck based on fractals. Almost immediately, Kruse began work on another deck that fused more real-life composition with computer graphics.  Yet and still, the new deck was not only colorful and vibrant, the surreal quality of her first creation carried over to the Tarot of the Black Flamingo.

Being a rather literal kind of girl, I was even more mesmerized by this new deck than I had been by the Fractal. I was particularly impressed by the magical images that gave new life to traditional Majors without obliterating the time-honored archetypal foundations.

The Fool doesn't merely wear flowers in her hair; her hair is a cornucopia of blooms.  The Magician is a beautiful and serene dragon/seahorse, who moves smoothly and powerfully through his world and through his will.  The High Priestess' glowing green eyes see all -- her fractal face merges with a background of radiant flowers and lovely landscapes, some real and some made of spiral-shaped fractals.

The Empress is not surreal at all.  She walks through opulent and loamy fields, a basket of fruits balanced upon her beautiful head.  Her majesty is not based on silken and ornate attire; it is in her measured and elegant stance and the impeccable bright white dress, so clean and fine in her earthy surroundings. Her mate, The Emperor, awaits her in similar surroundings, but he is clothed in colorful, tribal costume. She walks in cool blue, whereas the sun blazes brightly upon The Emperor's domain.  His scepter is a wooden totem, as colorful as the man who holds it in his grasp. Their marriage reflects the best and the brightest our earth has to offer.

The Lovers shows another kind of marriage, equally bright and tropical. Although this card depicts two birds, their coupling is also a "timeless dance of passion."

One of my favorite cards, Strength, displays the traditional woman and large feline, but with a twist.  Both seem quite strong and mighty -- the woman, with long, untamed locks tumbling about her like a mane and the big cat, head bowed, but with his spirit not broken-- he would leap to his mistress' defense with unbridled feral power.

The Hermit is a black flamingo, and does double duty as the title card. Kruse does a brilliant job with the background of this card, managing to create a scene both tropical and silent. One gets a sense of the solitary nature of this Trump both from the bird's bent neck and the almost-Japanese floating world surroundings.

Another card I find utterly captivating is The Hanged Man, which depicts a wide tree trunk.  At its center dives a man of fractals, and it seems as if he is driving himself by sheer spirit to the center of the earth, in order to discover the secrets of existence. The composition of this card seems nothing short of brilliance, conjuring the legacy of Odin and advancing it to the present-day. The majority of the cards were created in the medium of acrylic on canvas, but some are done on the computer. This card is a combination of both, and shows how effectively these media can work together.

Another brilliant card is The Tower (see top), showing the personal fragmentation that can shatter and destroy with the force of a thousand earthquakes.

The Chariot, Fortune, Justice, Death, The Star, The Sun, and The World all fuse fractals with more literal art, to a lesser or greater degree. I think The World card, with its beautiful balance of the real and the surreal, is a culmination not only of Kruse's artistry, but of the Major Arcana, a magical merging of dancing within the constraints of the material world.

My main criticism of the Fractal Firebird Tarot was the companion book, which seemed unrelated to the images of that deck.  The booklet that accompanies the Tarot of the Black Flamingo is a marvelous collection of poems, one for each of the Major Arcana.  Also included is the image of each card, next to the poem, so the booklet could be sold without the cards.  Generally speaking, I find most tarot-themed poetry to be rather pretentious and banal-- not so Maria Kruse's poems, which tell the tale of her cards in ways both subtle and glorious.

My only gripe with this deck is the quality of the card images.  While the art is exquisite, the copies are washed out and don't do the images justice. The artist has said that future copies will be color photocopies, as opposed to ones done on her printer.  The card stock is thin and elegantly laminated, and the card backs are gray marble. The cost of the deck and booklet is $50, which seems quite reasonable considering the costs and time involved in creating deck and booklet. In addition, the deck comes in a hand-made paisley bag with a drawstring.

While those who don't collect Major Arcana-only decks will eschew the Tarot of The Black Flamingo, I recommend it to lovers of the magical and surreal, as well as art lovers and tarot enthusiasts of all stripes.

You can see more images and order the deck here.

Excerpt:

The World

Time dancer wreathed in the silks
of a thousand galaxies.
Rapture beyond imagining,
bliss that blinds
the gods.
Divine emptiness,
and the open heart
fill the worlds with complete joy.
It is done and the dance does not
end, nor begin.
It is forever.
To be both ocean and wave,
to contain it all in a single drop.
To swallow the drop and become the
endless sea.
Echoes of the heart's desire
magnify and are fulfilled.
Experience the wholeness of being,
the great web of all time and space.
Allow the energies
to fill and expand
until you contain stars.
Dance the life of the universe

  Yes No
78 cards   X
Reversible Backs X  
Strength VIII, Justice XI X  
Color Images X  
Standard (RWS) Titles of the Major Arcana X  
Traditional (RWS) Suits (Rods/Wands, Cups/Chalices, Swords, Pentacles/Disks) N/A  
Traditional (RWS) Golden Dawn Suit-Element Attributions N/A  
Standard dimensions (approx. 4 3/4" X 2 3/4")                     X
Smaller than standard                                            X
Larger than standard  
(approx. 3 1/4" x 4 1/2")                                          
X  

Images and text cited 2004 Maria Kruse
Review and page 2004 Diane Wilkes