Interview with Ciro Marchetti – Tarot Artist
Over ten years ago, when Llewellyn Publications asked Ciro Marchetti to do the artwork for a new deck (The Gilded Tarot) he didn’t know anything about Tarot, but he’s come a long way since then.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ciro at the UK Tarot Conference in 2013. One of the decks on display at his table was The Gilded Tarot Royale, which is an updated version of his original deck. It’s a visually stunning Rider-Waite style of Tarot that features realistic people within a mixture of medieval and fantasy art, illustrated in his unique, lush, exotic style.
In our interview, Ciro told me about his journey of discovery through the Tarot: Approximately fifteen years ago he turned his back on a successful career in corporate graphic design. He sold his company and dedicated himself to full time fantasy-style illustrations. A large portion of his work since then has been the production of Tarot and oracle cards.
He said that the mystical context of Tarot sparked his curiosity and that the world of Tarot seemed to fit other images he was producing at the time. He repeated several times that he wasn’t a Tarot reader, but that he felt it was an appealing challenge to create images that Tarot readers connected with.
How did Ciro start his involvement with Tarot? He had sent examples of his fantasy art to Llewellyn Publications with the hope of being able to do some of their book covers or calendars, however they said, “No thanks, we’ve got plenty for now.” But they passed it along to their divination division, who saw the potential for some stunning Tarot imagery. When they approached him about doing the artwork for The Gilded Tarot, he told them “I know nothing about Tarot!” but their persistence was our gain.
After creating so many decks, I asked if his association with the cards as an artist meant that he has turned into a Tarot reader through assimilation. He said, “I have read experimentally for myself, but I would never have the courage to read for someone else. And to be honest, I am not a good reader, because when you have been so intimately involved in the production of the images, it’s very difficult to read past that. For example, the King of Wands for me isn’t just the Tarot symbolism of that image…for me it’s that God-damn card that I had so much trouble drawing the fingers. It’s really difficult to separate the two.”
Mister Tarot: But when you were creating the King of Wands, surely you had to know the correspondences and some of the traditional interpretations of that card?
Ciro: Absolutely. I research that first, however, very often those items are quite nebulous emotions and characteristics. They are hard to visualise in their true sense. I mean how can you visually communicate qualities like fieriness or calmness? By pose…by dress? It’s quite difficult actually. My role is to take the meaning as I read it should be and I treat it as if I’m playing visual charades. I ask myself, if a card is meant to represent this or that, how do I communicate that in the instant of a freeze-frame of an image?
Mister Tarot: Do you get frustrated with only being able to use one panel for all of this emotion?
Ciro: Yes, that’s why I have done so many videos to promote the work. I can tell those stories so much more compellingly with motion and music. And that’s why, when I created Legacy of the Divine, I produced a little one-minute video for every card. It’s a much more powerful way to get that concept across.
Some of these video clips were shown during Ciro’s presentation at the conference. In his talk he explained how he used visual effects to suggest particular qualities and meanings for his oracle cards. He mentioned that he consciously used colours, fonts, and symbols to create an emotional response in the viewer.
In his artwork he often portrays his characters wearing masks, and he said that this was because “I’ve always found masks to be rather intriguing. Masks have a wonderful mystery to them—they hide reality—you can be something different behind them. They make you wonder who is the real person behind the mask?”
Ciro is one of Tarot’s master craftsmen. Through the medium of artwork and videos he has brought Tarot to life in a stunning and unique way. The world of Tarot is richer and more beautiful place because of his unlimited imagination and skill. He said that the most recent deck will be his last…let’s hope that isn’t true!