The Evolving Tarot by Michele Jackson Review by Diane Wilkes
The frontispiece card of the Evolving Tarot potently distills the attributes and characteristics of this deck. An amalgam of images from several of the cards, the black and white Dover art, religious icon cards, Asian gods, the Venus of Willendorf, and a skull are combined with traditional deck images from the Marseilles. While this melange of pictures could look like something the cat dragged in and spit out, the artist has created an eye-catching composition that not only flows, but speaks.
This deck speaks...loudly and clearly. Much like the deck's artist, Michele Jackson, the Evolving Tarot is colorful, strong, and goes for the jugular. Whenever I use this deck with those new to tarot, they always acknowledge being captivated and moved by the art; the cards must speak to them, too.
I feel uniquely qualified to review this deck because I was around at its inception and got to see it grow up. I even remember when the last card, The Magician, emerged from its mother's womb. It is striking to compare the first and last cards. The High Priestess is spunky, filled with life, as well as knowledge. The design is relatively simple; the art somewhat naive. Contrast this card with the complexity and sophistication of The Magician, where numerous symbols are combined in a layered and nuanced manner. There is a polished and subtle mastery of the collage form that the High Priestess, despite the card's liveliness and potency, lacks. The Magician is the thesis statement of a student who, over 78 cards, attained virtuosity of a subject and flaunts that accomplishment with panache.
There is no question that Arnell Ando's style and work deeply pervades this deck. Michele has acknowledged Ando's workshops as inspiration, and the Evolving Tarot contains several cards that highlight that show her influence: The Lovers and the Ten of Cups come to mind immediately. But Michele Jackson's Gemini Sun caused her to create several cards using one method, only to immediately explore other techniques and styles.
Note that Justice is hand-colored; the Two of Swords shows the ripped paper technique, as does the Ten of Swords, which also exhibits hand-drawn, somewhat imperfect, droplets of blood. The King of Swords is pure Mail Art. The Princess of Swords shows a unique combination of artistic techniques, including a hand-written parchment. The passage is from Mary Greer's description of the Page of Swords in Tarot for Your Self. The Two of Cups is one of my favorite cards, and was initiated as an exercise of creating an entire room from collage. While Arnell's influence may be undeniable, there is no question that Michele has created a deck that is strikingly her own; her encompassing search for the new combines with her eye for vibrant colors and sharp, shocking imagery. See how The Tower integrates Queen Latifah's flaming head splitting a skyscraper in two as lightning bisects the heavens. The sense of complete upheaval and catastrophe is almost physically palpable.
This also brings me, briefly, to my point about how this deck speaks. Can't you hear in your head what Queen Latifah might be screaming? Can't you easily imagine a dialogue with her? It wouldn't be an easy dialogue...she'd be frantic, hysterical. You can feel the grit of the city air, too. When you see this Tower card, as Edward R. Murrow would say, "You are there."
You would have a very different conversation with the couple in the Two of Cups, if you felt like disturbing them. They'd be civil, even though they certainly would wish you gone. This card's speech is more a conversation for two...but it would be easy to imagine listening in...the tones would be hushed, the colloquy genteel, but there'd be an underlying passion and intensity for all that.
This is a deck that makes it easy to envision dialogue; these cards have something to say. As a reader, your job becomes effortless and fun...you simply have to listen to the cards and translate their messages. Michele's many years of tarot experience infuse this deck with an understanding of the cards that many art decks lack, though she has said that the creation of the Evolving Tarot taught her more about the cards than anything she had ever done before. This grasp of the tarot makes this a great reader's deck for that reason, also. Michele has synthesized Waite-Crowley-Golden Dawn meanings in a way that anyone familiar with these decks would find doing readings with the Evolving Tarot comfortable, but also in discovery mode, finding new dimensions to the traditional meanings because of the imagistic differences.
Some of the cards are my favorite of any deck. The Wheel of Fortune speaks of the wind and rain in our souls, as well as having sunshine on a cloudy day. The Princess of Cups is not just beautiful and sensuous; there is a tempestuous quality evoked by the female image and the rolling waves that flows of water. Each of the four Aces has a short, perfectly-chosen phrase emblazoned on an image of a child. Each Ace's child is of a different race, which I appreciate, as I do the fact that this is a very diverse deck. The Seven of Wands includes two of my heroes: Eleanor Roosevelt and Malcolm X; I love what this card says about striving and fighting oppression.
As I pointed out earlier, the artist used numerous styles and techniques, and because she began as a collage novice, the quality of the art, as well as the style, is occasionally uneven. Some might find this disconcerting; others, like myself, find it exhilarating. The imperfections are just another pulse of life in this speaking deck. It's part of the "evolving" nature of this deck, and creates a cohesion despite qualities of incohesiveness.
I feel privileged to own this deck, not just because it's rare and not for sale, but because it is an evocative reading deck that speaks to me...not in my language, but in the bold and bright language of the artist. The conversations that result are insightful and always stimulating.
You can see more cards and read about the creation of this deck by the artist here.
You can see a sample reading with this deck here.
Self-Published/not for sale
Images © 1999 Michele Jackson
Page and Review © 2001 Diane Wilkes