The title "Tarot of the Cat People" is deceptively simple, and does not do justice to the rich universe of geographies, peoples, social and natural order that Karen Kuykendall has created in producing this fascinating and magical Tarot deck.
The people and cats depicted on the 78 cards inhabit the "Five Kingdoms of the Outer Reaches": a vast terrain situated far far away. Each is populated by a different type of people, each with their own beliefs and way-of-life. Each is explored in it's own Arcana.
All the peoples shared a common belief in what Karen calls "the Cosmic Order". In her own words:
"It is seen as a force that governs nature and is personified as the Sun, often represented as a cat's head... All the elements of nature - the winds, the stars, the people - contain Spirits, or Essences. The People revere the Essences, which are not considered gods and are not personified."
As well as a common framework of belief, all the people share a love and respect of cats. Karen describes how,
"Small kottis are beloved pets and companions, black panthers are guardians and patrollers, leopards control the size and health of wild herds by predatory selection. The rare and magnificent long-haired and thick-furred Blue Leopard is the companion of kings, queens and emporors - but only if that noble cat chooses the ruler's company."
It took Karen more than two painstaking years of work to prepare the original art for the deck. Each card was painted on acrylic. She used an unusual technique of "splattering" the background with a toothbrush, giving the entire deck it's very distinctive, "pixilated" feel. The illustrations themselves are highly styalised: it is hard to justice to them in a description (please refer to the photos). The characters exude majestic, Asian influnces and are coloured in brilliant range of luminous tones, creating the sensation that each is "jumping out" of the card in which it is situated.
Karen is an artist of renown outside of Tarot. In the 1950s she designed a medieval-inspired furniture line. She's taught art at the Central Arizona College and Unviersity of Arizona and had her work displayed at the Phoenix Art Museumn and Tucson Art Museumn.
The 78 card deck includes an instructional booklet, which describes the Outer Regions in more detail as well as providing a guide to interpreting the cards.