She runs her hand across the deck of cards, pulling one out randomly. A colourful image surfaces — a female with the sun glowing above her head. She looks empowered, happy, and in control.
In the world of tarot, the sun’s divination meaning is that of contentment — of attaining success and good health through mental, physical and spiritual vitality.
It is a good omen if held upright.
The sun has been shining brighter for Vernon’s Roxi Hermsen as of late. The past decade has dealt the artist more than a few blows — the death of her young son and her mother, and an illness that almost claimed her own life — but Hermsen says her fate is now in the cards. And she means that, literally.
About to participate in her first solo exhibition since 1999, Hermsen is revealing a set of 80 paintings based on a deck of tarot cards that has taken her seven years to make.
Entitled The Fool’s Journey, named after the card that represents new beginnings, Hermsen’s paintings go beyond the surface. They tell a personal story of how someone can go through pain and anguish to find inner peace – through art.
“(Tarot) may seem otherworldly, but once people see the paintings, they will get different things from it,” said Hermsen. “It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
A former media arts teacher at A.L. Fortune Secondary School, Hermsen studied art and dance therapy and was working towards a master’s degree in counselling before her life took a downward spiral.
It started with her own health. Zapped of energy, she says she couldn’t focus on tasks she had easily performed before such as reading. Dancing became impossible as she lost her balance and couldn’t pick up the steps.
Then there was the emotional ups and downs. Many years and doctor’s appointments later, she was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease.
“Life changed dramatically,” she said. “And then my son fell ill.”
Hermsen’s son, Shea, died at the age of nine. Soon after, Hermsen and her grieving family, including husband Tony and son Bram, moved to the Caribbean island nation of Granada.
“I really took up painting when we went to Granada. The culture was so different, it helped take the pain out of painting. Every brush stroke helped me strip away the pain and grief,” said Hermsen, who eventually returned to the North Okanagan with dozen of paintings featuring everything from goddesses to a series of dolls influenced by her grandmother’s collection.
“Someone saw them, and said ‘you should do tarot cards,’” said Hermsen, who had never really seen a deck of the cards before.
Originally used in the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play a group of card games, it was only in the 18th century that tarot started being used as a divination tool to map mental and spiritual pathways.
“I once took a workshop on Jungian psychology and had connected with myths and fairytales. It was then that I had started painting from what came out of my head,” said Hermsen, who approached tarot in the same manner, although she knew nothing about the cards when she first started.
In fact, Hermsen admits she wasn’t that impressed with the cards she did eventually encounter.
“They were more done as drawings, not paintings,” she said, “ I was into art symbolism and was already doing that in my paintings, so I thought I could use that and all aspects of my life to create my own deck.”
Hermsen set off to paint 78 cards. The first was the Ace of Pentacles — which represents material well being and wealth.
“I didn’t study tarot then paint. I drew each card, then researched it, then painted. I didn’t want to copy other decks,. I wanted it to be my own,” she said.
Rife with symbolism – enough to even keep even Da Vinci code breaker Robert Langdon busy for months — each card, unintentionally, began to represent a person that Hermsen knew.
Her son Bram was the only person who posed for a card. Draped in a Jedi-style cloak, he became The Magician.
“I called the deck The Pearls of Wisdom after my mother Margaret, which means pearl, and the crystals and rainbows are an ode to my son Shea,” she said, adding there is nothing “dark” about the cards, even those that represent sorrow, death and tragedy.
“Everyone paints from their angst. Instead, I try to be as optimistic as I can. In fact, my tarot cards are dubbed the most optimistic by tarotists,” said Hermsen, who also credits her family for their immense support of her work.
“I wanted to do something uplifting for my spirit, If I could uplift my spirit, then my body would follow and heal the trauma.”
Now in their second edition, the first edition of the cards, published by 7th House in 2007, are a collector’s item and have been featured in a number of international and Canadian publications.
With her first art exhibition in many years, which will showcase every painting represented in The Pearls of Wisdom deck, plus two new ones, Hermsen continues on her journey to healing.
She is currently working on a booklet to accompany the “major arcana” (greater secrets), or trump cards in the deck, which includes all the symbolism and their meanings. She also plans to conduct webinars and will present workshops while her exhibition is up.
The first, Oct. 22, is on “Foolish” painting, where participants will free draw an unplanned work of art using natural elements. The second, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 5, will be a “Magicians” workshop, where participants will have more control over what they create, using similar elements.
Both take place at the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery.
The Fool’s Journey runs at the Armstrong-Spallumcheen Museum and Art Gallery Thursday, Oct. 6 to Nov. 10. An opening reception will be held at the gallery Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. Belly dancer Kristi Christian, who is represented in the Wheel of Fortune card, is scheduled to perform. Hermsen will also host a talk, tarot and tea at the gallery Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. More information on the exhibition and accompanying events is available at the gallery or by calling 250-546-8318.