Tarot Talks Volume XIV: An interview with Neil Lovell, creator of the Tyldwick Tarot

Hi my beautiful souls! Winter is here & so is the time to connect with The Hermit. This is a great time of year because it allows the stillness that is necessary to connect with self on a deeper level. The bridge is built in the winter that leads us to the Spring, the season of aces & time of new beginnings. The stillness of winter allows us to reflect on the Harvest of Fall, what we are grateful for & what we would like to see ourselves do better. Neil Lovell has created a deck that works well with this self-reflection, it is like a warm sweater on a cold winters day. Something that seems as though it was found in a closest in an old house, but this deck is far from being old or mundane. There are no people in the deck, merely glimpses in the Court Cards. The scenes depicted allow one to connect to the subconscious with crystal clear vision. I hope that you enjoy reading about it as much as I do working with it!

-HERU JEROME

 

 Tyldwick Tarot, Neil Lovell

Tyldwick Tarot, Neil Lovell

Interview
Neil Lovell creator of the Tyldwick Tarot

The familiar images of the Rider Waite deck may create structure for this deck, but Neil Lovell has created a deck that is truly a piece of art. There is something that is timeless & new about it both at the same time. It is like a magical object found in Grandma’s attic. It’s like he said “I’ve tried to capture some of that sense of only ever being given half of the story, of not quite being let into the secret. The intrigue of knowing somethings got history behind it, but only being able to guess as to its truth.”

Worthy Tarot: Tell me about yourself, where are you from & where are you currently? How have these locations influenced what you do creatively?

NL: I spent my childhood and teenage years in a village in Northamptonshire, which is in the very center of England- as far away from the coast as it’s possibly to get. My family, which is very large and very extended, has lived there for generations, mostly working on land and in forestry, so I still feel a very strong connection to it. It’s changed enormously since I was a child. These days it’s fairly anonymous and feels much like anywhere else. But back in the 1970s it had a very distinctive character. It was still pretty Victorian in many respects, it could just as easily have been in the 1870s in terms of the way most people lived and how it operated. The same families had been there forever, there weren’t many outsiders. There was certainly a running surplus of established eccentrics who were very much entrenched into the fabric of village life.

We weren’t at all well off, and being stuck in the middle of nowhere, there wasn’t a great deal to do, so very early on I developed quite an overactive imagination and that’s stayed with me ever since. I don’t think I was particularly unusual in that respect – nobody else had much money either, at least not in my immediate peer group, so I’m not claiming that I was especially deprived. Most of the kids in my village back then tended to be fairly creative and imaginative by default simply because of the majority of time you needed to make your own entertainment. It wasn’t like nowadays where children spend hours a day in front of some screen. You went to school, you went to chapel, but that left a lot of time over to use up and you all needed a certain amount of imagination to fill it in. I think maybe my creativity and imagination just extended further than some of the others. I suspect that part of that was to do with my being exceptionally small; I didn’t start growing to normal size – if I am allowed to say that- until very late, in my mid-teens. I tend to forget now how small I was, and people who did not know me as a child think it is hilarious when they find out. I was only reminded of it myself the other day when I saw some photographs my uncle had taken of me and some of my cousins- I think I had to be about 7 or 8 in these pictures- and I wasn’t just small, I was properly tiny. In retrospect, I think that probably had some kind of effect. When you’re little, and you can’t run as fast or climb as high or ride your bike as far as the other kids, you inevitably end up being left out of some things. So you need to find other ways of keeping yourself occupied- which for me was reading, music, just generally drawing and making stuff I suppose. But I didn’t have a lonely isolated childhood or anything traumatic like that. The family was always around, everywhere, so I always had plenty of cousins to play with. I wasn’t one of the wild ones (and some kids in my village were extremely wild), but I did all the regular things, good and bad, that you’d expect to do growing up in the countryside of England.

To answer your question about how growing up influenced what I do creatively, I’m not completely sure, but there are a few things that I am conscious of. The first is obviously just the urge to create. That’s a product of my early background and something I’m grateful for. Second, I’m saddled with a great enthusiasm for and fascination with the past, particularly its more hidden aspects. When you grow up in a village, you’re surrounded by secrets- there are so many things that have happened, often a long time ago, that are only ever whispered about and never openly explained. Family secrets, village secrets – so many secrets. I think the obsession with secrecy may be a peculiarly English trait – that whole “not in front of the children” attitude. My own childhood was deeply affected by that and I think it possibly shows through. In all my decks, particularly with the Tyldwick Tarot, I’ve tried to capture some of that sense of only ever being given half the story, of not quite being let into the secret. The intrigue of knowing somethings got a history behind it, but only being able to guess as to its truth. I suppose I like the fantasy of someone discovering one of my decks in an old box in an attic somewhere, or down the back of a bookcase – that’s very much influenced the type of designs I produce and the styles I’ve chosen to work in.

 Tyldwick Tarot - Neil Lovell

Tyldwick Tarot - Neil Lovell

When I was 18, I went off to Oxford where I read Classics. I was there four years, did all the embarrassing things that every student does everywhere; probably like every ex-student does everywhere, I now live in perpetual dread of any of them coming to light. After that I moved immediately to London, where I have lived since. I spent more than 20 years working in market and brand consultancy, becoming a partner in a small boutique agency which during my time there expanded and evolved into a much larger and profitable outfit. I had a very successful career there working for many global brands, particularly media brands – that meant a lot of international travel, reporting to top brass, often working to very tight deadlines, a lot of intellectual pressure. I loved the job for a long time but towards the end I became progressively more disillusioned with what I was doing. I’m afraid it was a slow death. I’d felt for some time that I wanted to devote my energies into something more purely creative; eventually I had to acknowledge that the tension between what I was doing professionally and what I actually wanted to do wasn’t sustainable, so I decided to just ship out and leave that whole world of big business and million dollar decisions behind. I can’t complain – I had many years working with great colleagues, I had a better boss than it’s possible to dream of, and I did all right out of it financially over the years! And that brings me to where I am now a year later, being a full time artist and designer. It’s a very different life. I’m still based in London, although I’m not sure that I need to be here much longer. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to do what I do from anywhere I like. I wouldn’t mind a bit more space- both physically and mentally- than London offers, that’s for sure. I suppose it’s a decision for me to make over the next year or so.

 Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

Worthy Tarot: What drew you to Tarot, what aspects of your energy have found their way into your deck? How does this make your deck unique?

NL: I wish I could give you a more interesting backstory. I was only about 13 when I bought my first deck- it’s difficult for me to remember that far back, and I don’t recall any specific trigger. I do know that as a youngster I was interested in the supernatural. Perhaps not so much interested in the supernatural, actually- more, I’d say, fascinated by the unexplained. In England there was a popular magazine called, imaginatively enough, The Unexplained -  it was one of those silly partworks where you collected all the editions every week for about a hundred years and put them into binders. My cousin used to get this magazine, and whenever I was wound at his house I’d pore over it obsessively. Not so much the stuff about Uri Geller, UFOs, men in black, or the Philadelphia Experiment; I was never terribly interested in any of that. I think that possibly all felt too American and very distant from my own surroundings. But I loved all the historical and folk mysteries which belonged to the landscape I was lining in and which were intimately connected to a culture I could instantly recognize: Merlin, the Grail, ley lines, the Lambton Worm, the Woolpit Children, Spring-heeled Jack. Of course even at a conservative estimate ninety percent of the material in this magazine was absolute fantasy twaddle, but back in the 70s and 80s, before the internet ruined everything and destroyed imagination, it was much easier to be seduced and convinced by it. Particulary growing up where I did, where as I’ve already said there just wasn’t very much other stimulus. Anyway, I think it was probably against that backdrop that I first decided to get a Tarot deck. I’d love to be able to say that I was drawn to Tarot because it called out to me or that I immediately felt some deep spiritual affinity with it, but I’m afraid that wouldn’t be true. It’s much more likely that I was attracted to it because it was a bit spooky and weird, and because I’d seen it in the opening of Tales of the Unexpected. I suspect most people of my generation – if they are honest about it- would probably tell a similar tale. Because back then there simply wasn’t the literature or the knowledge base that there is now. There weren’t even many decks around. It was only many years later, I’d say perhaps in the early 90s, that you could walk into any bookshop and take your pick, without getting to the counter and being stared at like you were some kind of devil worshipping deviant.

More generally, I’ve also always had a slightly pathetic devotion to sets: I’m one of those completists who reads one novel by an author and then has to read everything else they ever wrote. Couldn’t read just one Murdoch- had to read all twenty six in one go. Couldn’t watch just one Fassbinder movie- had to see them all. And in an odd way, I think the sequence and structure of the Tarot deck appealed to me very strongly precisely because of that tendency in my character. I love the deck’s symmetry, and how individual cards work and combine together as a complete set. That was certainly one of the reasons I wanted to create my own deck: to see if I could create 78 separate pieces of design that which would join together as a unified whole. Achieving that unity certainly isn’t easy. As I’m sure other designers will have already told you, one of the toughest parts of designing a Tarot deck is the need for cohesion- creating cards that work as separate pieces of original design but which also add up to more than the sum of the parts. That can be frustrating and often desperate process, because very often you are forced to discard designs for not fitting the overall scheme. You regularly throw out designs which you’ve spent ages working on. What’s worst is if you make a radical change of direction midway – or even later – through the process. That’s happened to me a couple of times designing Lenormand decks.

 Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

I couldn’t really say what aspects of my own energy are in the decks I ended up creating – that may be a question better answered by others – but when I set out to design the Tyldwick Tarot I knew that I wanted to capture some of that original sense of mystery I’d felt when I bought my own first deck, back in the days before every aspect of Tarot had been described and analyzed in the hundreds of books and thousands of articles written since. I very definitely didn’t want to make a deck which gave away answers directly – I wanted it to provoke its uses to wonder and to speculate, encouraging them to probe their own intuition and to develop their own interpretations.

I suppose the two aspects of the Tyldwick Tarot which set it apart most immediately from other decks are that (a) every card’s set within and around the same house, and (b) it doesn’t feature any people (although the Courts have hints of them). Both were deliberate decisions; I wanted to set the deck in a single place to create unity, and I wanted readers to respond to atmospheres rather than personalities. It’s a deck which communicates its messages through memories, echoes, and traces. I imagine that it will require a certain amount of dedication and patience to work with. That was a concern when it came to actually publishing the deck. Before you publish and finally give people the opportunity to use a deck, you don’t know it’s going to be received- whether it will actually work. And then once its published it’s really out of your own hands after that. I’ve been delighted to hear from so many readers who tell me they genuinely “got it”. I realize that it’s not a deck for everyone, and the reaction to the deck since it has been published has been quite polarized. I haven’t seen many middling opinions- people’s responses to it have seemed to be either extremely positive or extremely negative. I don’t mind that – I’d much prefer to put a deck out which generates strong opinion either way than something which nobody cares less about. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s made it into the Tarot “canon”, but I can see that it’s made some impact and I’m pleased about that.

                                            
Worthy Tarot: We are entering an Air Age which is associated with thought. When you examine air it can blow everything around that is not tethered. People are trying to find their footing and light as they enter this age and are drawn to the magic and spirituality of the Tarot. The face of the tarot just like our new age is changing, how do you feel your deck lends to this revolution?

NL: Hmmm, I’m not altogether certain how it does. I can only speak for myself and I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about what draws other people to my deck, or to Tarot in general. I know I’ve made some changes to myself to my own situation and I’ve recently gone through a major reassessment of what I’m looking for in life. I walked away from a highly lucrative and established previous career to pursue a much more modest but more fulfilling existence. Whether that’s prompted by the coming Air Age or just by my own middle age I can’t tell.

Is the Air age an unqualified good? I don’t have an answer, so I can’t really analyze what role my decks might have in that shift. I agree absolutely with your comment about air blowing everything around that’s not tethered- that’s a good way of expressing quite a lot of what I actually find frustrating and disappointing about modern life, particularly what happens online. I don’t want to sound like some grumpy dinosaur, but a large part of both the spirit and behavior of the Air Age strikes me as being very superficial and incredibly selfish. There’s a huge amount of moral vanity and more competiveness and, sad to say, moral laziness swirling around nowadays, generally tied up with identity politics. I don’t see very much progress or revolution happening. I think technology, for all the benefits and delights it provides, is exercising a damaging effect here and I worry about how social medial in particular is affecting the collective psyche – what the consequences are going to be on the pathology of future generations, and what that’s going to mean for all of us.

Air by itself is… just that, air. It needs to be substantiated by the other elements if we’re all going to get anywhere or get anything done. Regretfully at the moment I think there are many people who’ve somehow convinced themselves that thought, by itself, provides sufficient claim to moral virtue – that being a good person is determined entirely by what you think, rather than by anything you do. I can’t align myself with that. I find it especially depressing that being a “good person” seems in the minds of many increasingly to depend more upon how loudly you declare your right-on credentials in Facebook posts than upon what you’re personally prepared to do to make a difference. Posting a message declaring how much you hate the Daily Mail or Fox News doesn’t make you a good person – it’s just empty virtue signaling, involving no sacrifice or effort. Whether you hate the Daily Mail or Fox News (or, more to the point, broadcasting loudly to the world that you hate them) is neither here nor there in my book. It’s not enough simply to click and support the cause- goodness requires rather more sacrifice than that. It’s going next door and helping out your neighbor who maybe can’t read very well, or taking the time to do the gardening for the disabled lady up the road who can’t manage it herself. Donating your time, your talent, or your money to others in need, whomever and wherever they may be. Tarot is a fantastic tool, to my mind one of the very best tools, for providing answers to life’s many questions. But if you don’t then use those answers for good, well, I’m afraid there’s nothing very magical or spiritual about that.

 Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

Worthy Tarot: What inspires you and how was that inspiration incorporated into your deck?

NL: It can come from anywhere, but memories of childhood are especially powerful. And fascination with the past is an ongoing feature of my work, for better or worse. All of my decks have, at least to some degree, been imagined pastiches – I’ve designed them to look like they’ve been around a long time. I think I’ve already said enough about that though – I’ll only be repeating if I say more about it.

I do follow what other deck designers are up to, and of course there’s also a lot of inspiration there. I like Robert Place’s work very much indeed. Although his visual style is quite different to mine and we’ve not met one another, I do feel some kind of invisible humming thread connecting what he does to what I do. He seems to be interested in many of the same things as me: historicism, allegory, mythology, symbology. And I adore Patrick Valenza’s work with absolute, unqualified love. It’s probably saying the unsayable, but I do think there’s a certain subtle competiveness between deck designers, even if they generally don’t know one another and although they’re working in completely different areas. You sometimes see an amazing deck and at the same time as you admire and appreciate it, you’re also just a little envious that someone else came up with such a great idea and realized it. You can’t help it – I suppose it’s an inevitable consequence of others also designing fantastic stiff. I don’t think there’s anything around with that kind of friendly rivalry though. It spurs you on to do better yourself next time.   

Worthy Tarot: If you could use a film, artists, novels to make your dream Tarot deck what would that be? (I have a couple NeverendingStory Tarot, Pippi Longstocking Tarot, Julie Heffernan Tarot like please now!!!!)

NL: Well, when it comes to artists, all the obvious ones. I often wish that at least one of the greatest Renaissance painters had done us all a favor and knocked out a deck. I’m sure Michelangelo could have squeezed another 22 paintings into his schedule if he tried. I have to say, though, that I have mixed feelings about those artist themed decks of this sort which occasionally come out. I see people who’ve attempted to create decks out of classic paintings by Raphael or Alfred Waterhouse or whatever, but, speaking just for myself, I don’t think they ever quite work. I recognize that those decks have of course been compromised by what original art’s available, but I just feel that all too often the art itself’s been shoehorned into a structure where it doesn’t fit very well. The cards can be lovely, but as decks they’re really just catalogs of paintings rearranged with new titles attached.- and the links to the titles are necessarily often somewhat tenuous. So whenever I see someone’s bringing out a Klimt deck or a Schiele deck or something like that, I do look at it… but after some initial enthusiasm I quickly end up getting frustrated and impatient, wishing instead that Klimt or Schiele had designed one. I don’t think it helps either if you’re already familiar with the artworks, because they tend to carry quite powerful associations of their own and that inevitably causes interference.

I have a number of paintings in my house by a Hungarian artist who worked mostly in the 50s and 60s, Laszio Dregely, and I’ve sometimes wondered what kind of deck he would of produced. His work carries a lot of very subtle symbols and mythological allusions and I’d like to have seen how he’d have incorporated them into a deck. There’s recently discovered deck by Austin Osman Spare due out soon which I am waiting for and really looking forward to, and I suspect Dregely might have come up with something in a similar vein.

 Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

Tyldwick Tarot- Neil Lovell

I’m not sure about films or novels – nothing immediately springs to mind. I’m not much of a fantasy fan: I’m such a drudge, these days I mostly only read novels about English middle-class anxiety and watch dreary European films about existential crisis. I don’t think much of that would translate across to a deck very easily. There’s no film I’m so crazy about that I find myself wishing that it had a deck. Although purely in terms of art direction and costume I’d have like to have seen what Eiko Ishioka could have done. Her work was amazing, even if the films it appeared in weren’t always the best. Immortals, for example, was truly dreadful in terms of script and performances, but was absolutely glorious to look at. I think she’d have created a fantastic deck. The dame with Alexander McQueen. If he could have disciplined himself enough to stick to the structure, that would have been interesting.

Worthy Tarot: Would you ever create another deck, think about this one as I know 78 cards are a huge undertaking!

NL: I’ve already started another deck, but progress on it’s been quite slow to date- much slower that I’d hoped. I’ve designed several Lenormand decks since I published the Tyldwick Tarot, but I’ve found it impossible to combine Lenormand and Tarot projects. I’ve recently realsised that if I’m going to get the new Tarot deck done I need to dedicate myself to it exclusively. It’s surprised me, actually, because I’ve not had a problem working on multiple Lenormand decks at a time – in fact I’ve found it nice being able to hop between the various different decks I’ve had on the go. But the new Tarot deck clearly refuses to share my time with anything else, it demands 100% attention. So the plan’s now to get the three Lenormand decks I’m working on done and out the door. Once they’re finally out of the way (early next year) I can knuckle down to working on the Tarot project properly.

Worthy Tarot: If someone is interested in your deck how would they get a hold of you?

NL: My website is www.malpertuis.co.uk I also have a regularly updated Facebook page for Malpertuis at www.facebook.com/malpertuisdesigns.