The Tarot Del Fuego is a stunning visual sucker punch of carnival freaks and impossible images – and so it is likely to be polarizing. It is a great addition to a larger tarot collection, because while it is complex and beautiful it is also not for the faint of heart, prudish, or inexperienced. It is good choice, however, if you are looking specifically for a modern deck with a distinctive style that purposeful plays with gender.
This deck is by Ricardo Cavolo, a Spanish painter and illustrator. He’s prolific and popular, and his work is seen on record covers and book illustrations, murals, clothing – you name it! Mr. Cavolo’s style is hard to mistake for anyone else’s. He’s got a passion for bright primary colors and many symbols come up again and again no matter the subject matter – flaming hearts, tattooed outsiders, bloody limbs, fire … as well as people and animals with multiple eyes. According to Juxtapoz magazine his teacher told him he ought to try his hand at a tarot deck and so he ‘covered’ the Tarot de Marseille to create his Tarot del Fuego.
The card is professionally printed by Fournier, and can be easily ordered online from several Spanish-language websites. The deck itself is slightly smaller than standard size with round-corner cards that are nice and not-to-slippery. It’s got a nice feel in your hands and shuffles well.
Despite the small size of the cards and the very complex images, it’s not at all hard to tell what’s going on in each card. The colors are bright, and even when there are lots of little birds or flowers or flames everywhere they are recognizable – a testament to the fact his style is so clear and distinctive.
That style is a selling point of the deck. All those tattoos and hearts with eyes lend themselves to a series of stunning images that evoke powerful reactions. Many of the card images are deep, layered, and beautiful even if they feature hacked limbs or hearts aflame. The people with many eyes that Mr. Cavolo favors lend themselves well to the people of the tarot, and his occasional nod to a carnival motif adds both fun and a dark complexity to several of the major arcana. The World, for example, is an endearing bearded lady – or is it a man? It doesn’t matter, as you can’t help but be happy to see this card. Lady Justice is a lion tamer. Death and Strength are also lovely, as they have two heads or many eyes, but the real stunners are the cards where people don’t have eyes or faces at all like the Empress and Temperance. What a simple and perfect way to portray those archetypes.
The 2’s are also wonderful as are many of the Court Cards. The Queen of Cups and Knight of Cups are portrayed as impossible beings, but those images are spot on for the emotional message of the cards. The people in the Wands often are missing limbs, only to have them replaced by said wands, and the Swords are almost always about fighting off the darkness filled with eyes. Powerful and complex stuff that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
If every card in the deck was this successful, the deck would be an instant classic. There are, unfortunately, several cards where style seems to have won out over substance. Or the motifs just don’t work. Or perhaps they are simply indicative of such a radically different take on the traditional tarot meanings that they require more study – it’s likely a personal call. The 9 of coins, 5 of cups, 3 and 4 of Swords and Coins, as well as the 8 of Cups and Wands all seem to have been drawn by someone unfamiliar with the cards. They trip a new reader up and are likely to require a bit more study in order to read comfortably with the deck. Be forewarned. After all, when you hear a cover of your favorite song, you expect it to follow the same tune, and get irritated when the cover artist makes a really noticeable change. If this is a ‘cover’ of a classic tarot deck, these cards are where the artist tried to make is own mark. You’ll love it or hate it, but you can’t ignore it.
All of this could be cleared up with an artist’s statement, or specific ideas on these cards, but the deck comes with the littlest of little white books. It’s got basic card definitions in several languages. As with many little white books, the writing is tiny and the definitions are standard. They provided little to no insight about the cards that seemed to stray from the typical interpretations, leading one to suspect they were not written by the artist.
Despite all this, it’s a deck that is easy to love and provides so much imagery to explore. There also has to be a bonus point awarded for a deck that plays with gender – not enough of those out there. A great deck for personal exploration or if you are reading for close friends. It’s not really a deck for reading in mainstream settings. The graphic images, frequent nudity that does not fit a gender binary, as well as those tricky cards, make the tarot del Fuego an acquired taste. Therefore, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most perfect deck ever, I rate this a solid 3 but no higher. If really you like bold imagery and a bit of a non-conformist feel, you’ll likely disagree and call it a 4.