Sculpting the Tarot with Kayla Upton

The Tarot is one of my favourite books, I love looking and playing with the cards and their esoteric pictures and I am always looking for new ways to interpret the symbolism so when I came across these amazing sculptures of the tarot characters by Kayla Upton, I had to get in touch and find out more.

Kayla kindly put down her welding tools to chat about her art, the tarot and more.

Hermit by Kayla Upton

Hermes Q1-Can you tell us about your background, what brought you to art and sculpture?

Art has been a constant throughout my life. It’s something I picked up at a very early age and I was lucky enough to have a mother who encouraged me to explore it. I suppose communicating through forms and symbols had always made more sense that verbal language.

When I became older, I began to study Art, discovering and experimenting with techniques left behind by artists before me. Mutating styles to conform to my own conditioning. A part of me became fascinated by the mythological rockstar enigma of the artists. This thinking inhabited my mind in my teens and continued into my early twenties. I treat art as more of career than my way of communicating and I think this took me off the path to a degree. I excelled in my tertiary education in the beginning but it soon became stale as my art became increasing it influenced by desire to become what I didn’t realise what I had always been: an artist. I failed my final assessment and my ego took a hit. As a result, I abandoned art. I felt betrayed by it. I felt that it owed me a illustrious career in exchange for my devotion.

I turned my attention back to my spiritual roots. I was raised on mysticism, in particular the Tarot. An obsession bubbled up within me and I dedicated myself to analysing and deconstructing the hidden wisdom of the Tarot. Picking apart each cards symbol and uncovering its mythology. I saw it connection to my own life path. I decided to make an altar, with an icon to the card that corresponded to my heavily Capricorn natal chart: The Devil. Combining my natural ability with art with being quite poor at the time, I decided to make my own statue. So, I sculpted my own interpretation of the card in polymer clay.

In my mid-twenties a combination of coincidental events led me back to finishing off my diploma. On the tutors heard about my sculpture and asked to see it. She was impressed with my work and informed me that she was retiring at the end of the year (the same time that I was graduating) and she told me that she was preparing a bronze foundry for her work post-retirement. She offered me a role as her apprentice. Which led me down the molten road of bronze sculpture. A material that I took to like a duck to water. I feel a strong personal connection to bronze. It’s a dangerous medium to work with and yet surprisingly forgiving, which suited my experimental and boundary pushing nature.

Temperance by Kayla Upton

Hermes Q2: Please comment on how you were influenced to make this art and about who influences you.

My mother has been the greatest influence of my work. She would ritualistically unfold a silk cloth, place a specific quartz crystal in a specific place on the mat. Shuffling a deck pregnant with insight in a meditative trance-like way. These moments of my life revealed to me order to the apparent chaos of life. And so it made pure sense to use the medium of the Tarot within my art as a navigational tool.

After I had produced a few bronzes, someone brought my attention to a documentary about a bronze sculptor named Stanislav Sulkowski (the documentary is on Netflix called Struggle) (HERMES-A fantastic documentary which stunned and moved me). His work in similar to my own. He uses sculpture and symbol in a mythological way. I highly recommend checking out his work.

Another influence I discovered after my bronze work began was Rodin. He is seen as the inventor of modern bronze sculpture for good reason. Prior to him, bronze sculpture was the place of heroes and myths. No room for weakness. Rodin used the outer anatomy to expose the inner turbulence in works like the Thinker and Eve. I find myself employing the same method in my own work. I was lucky enough to exhibit my work alongside this legend earlier this year.

Devil by Kayla Upton

Hermes Q3: How do you prepare yourself to make this type of art?

I don’t often sketch out my works beforehand. Instead, I open up a Google Docs file (similar to Word) and write down the astrological, numerological, and mythological basis of a particular card that I would like to explore. I research each symbol and meditate on its connection to my own experience. I find that by focusing on what makes the card rather than its outward appearance results in my interpretation deviating quite often from what the original card looks like. This was I am less influenced by another artists interpretation and as a result I find that my finished work is more in line with my own conditioning and experience.

Hermes Q4: Would you call your art as esoteric?

Absolutely. I make no attempt to disguise its esoteric influence. Rather, occultism is the cornerstone of my work. It forms the framework, a foundational layer to the ideas I communicate. This esoteric language combines with a Rodinesque anatomical communication on the inner realms is the basis of all my work.

Sun by Kayla Upton

Hermes Q5: What is the medium for this particular series? Do you work in any other styles?

All my work is cast bronze. I love the lost-wax process. It captures detail incredibly accurately. Bronze is one of the most durable man-made material which allows for the figure to defy the physics of many other mediums that may slump from unusual postures. The reason we know that bronze is one the most durable materials is the fact that thousands of years old bronzes still exist to this day. This is another reason for why I work with bronze, I want my contribution to the Tarot to be something that lasts millennia. Something that survives as evidence of this book of keys to others.

Hermes Q6: What direction is your art going for the future?

My entire opus is already planned out. I intend on sculpting bronzes of every single Tarot card. That’s 78 sculptures. I’m exploring the Major Arcana first, then the Courts, then the Minor cards. I also intend on doing a series on the sephira of the qabalistic Tree of Life as it is an intrinsic component (perhaps the most important) part of the Tarots structure.

Hanged Man by Kayla Upton

Hermes Q7: Where can people find out more about your work and purchase your art? Is there a website?

You can find my work on Facebook and Instagram. I’m happy to note that my Facebook has just passed six thousand followers which is nice to know that other-selves are connecting to my work. The links are www.facebook.com/kaylaupton.nz and ww.instagram.com/kaylaupton.nz

Written by

Debbie Elliott is the author of various fiction works all with a theological theme. Her latest book is 'Monkey Mind Robot Body' which looks at the coming impact of AI and trans-humanism. Debbie's non-fiction work looks at the theology of all religions and the history of prominent people in these realms, her specific interests are the work of G I Gurdjieff, Rudolf Steiner and the megaliths of standing stones that can be found all over our world. Debbie also makes podcasts for her YouTube channel; DJ Elliott, on various topics and has interviews with a selection of great guests on subjects that range from art to zoology. Her Youtube series ‘Occult Lives’ discusses diverse subjects from astrology to theosophy." All can be found at www.debbie-elliott.co.uk

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