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It’s amazing how art can affect emotions, which in turn drive purchasing decisions. While some collectors will buy anything new that comes out, it seems like most tarotists acquire decks that appeal strongly to their artistic and emotional tastes. I fall into the latter category – I acquire decks that appeal to my tastes in art, color, and composition and that speak to my sensitive intuitive antennae. I have a few decks that are historically important, but those tend to sit in the tarot cupboard. Above all, a deck has to give good readings to rate high in my picky tarot world, because I give a lot of readings.
The Paulina Tarot won’t be sitting in a drawer! This lovely deck has much to recommend it, but in an unexpectedly eccentric manner. Ms. Cassidy’s deck has a full helping of whimsy and then some. She draws in a gauzy illustrative style that can be fuzzy or indistinct in some renderings, but don’t assume that this minimizes the impact of these cards. The artwork has a distinctive French-Creole and Cirque du Soleil influence that becomes evident in the Pierrot-like face decorations and in the costumes that swath the characters that populate this deck. The color palette is unusually restricted. Ms. Cassidy has chosen to compliment her drawing style by colorizing with shaded pastels and sepia tones. Bright colors are absent with the exception of a few daubs of red.
The reference to Pierrot is apt, as the cards seem to portray a series of ballet scenes as one might have seen in the days of the legendary Ballet Russe: a Stravinsky score choreographed by the Léonide Massine, with sets by Jean Cocteau. Child dancers are costumed as strange creatures, and Diaghilev and Nijinsky tease ballerinas backstage between interludes. The commedia dell’arte atmosphere of the scenes reinforces an improvisational ambience and exudes the surreal and wistful world of Pierrot. As composer Arnold Schoenberg said of his musical setting of the Pierrot Lunaire poems, it is “an almost too animal and immediate expression of sensual and spiritual emotions.”  Central casting selects the ballerina on the Star card to portray Columbine, the female pawn tugged toward moonstruck innocence by Pierrot and toward darker desires by Brighella.
The facial expressions on the characters are one of the strongest elements of deck. Some characters are benign and sweet, while others, like the Page of Swords, are obviously full of mischief. The presence of many animals, both relatively normal and abnormally composite, heightens the feral instincts that float to the mind’s surface when viewing a card spread. Animals help the humanesque characters, keep them company, and even take over the action in some cards. Plants come alive as well, evolving with human characteristics in the Hierophant and the Ace of Pentacles. This delightful merger highlights the earth-rootedness of these cards along with the timeless wisdom of trees and plants. Ms. Cassidy’s renderings are cleverly composed and sometimes heavily textured. It behooves the reader to carefully examine each card for creatures hidden in the folds of a gown or underneath the leaves of a plant.
With her Francophile artistic sensibility, nothing is ever too serious, too debauched, or too sinister. The cards miraculously escape the gloominess suggested by the muted color palette, and convey the delightfully humorous yet meaningful messages of the artist’s intentions. The drawings are reminiscent of the vintage fashion and perfume advertisements that skillfully conveyed the lush fragrance of a Guerlain perfume or the elegance of a Schiaparelli gown with seemingly careless colored ink sketches. The LWB is by the artist, and briefly but succinctly conveys the artist’s thoughts on her cards.
Ms. Cassidy, a native Canadian now living in Tennessee, is in the process of creating a second tarot deck, the Joie de Vivre Tarot, and has completed a Faerie Guidance Oracle Deck (no publication date given). For more information about the artist, go to http://www.paulina.ws/intro.htm

Review by Elizabeth Hazel
Tarot deck and book by Paulina Cassidy
US Games Systems, Inc., 2009
boxed 78-card deck and book, $18.00

(This review previously published in the ATA Quarterly Journal, Winter 2009 issue)

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