Artwork and writing by Eden Gallanter.

Eden is a professional artist, author, and scientist, and is the creator of the Cheimonette Tarot, sold in over 30 countries, across 6 continents.

Filtering by Tag: art

The Composite Series

It's been a long time since my last post. For the past two years, I have been in a Ph.D. program, training in neuropsychology, and I haven't had time to do much artwork.

Then I got to a point where I became completely overwhelmed. In the aftermath of this, I realized that art really needs to be at the center of my life—no matter how valuable or interesting I might find other careers, my heart can only be in one place at a time.

So, I dropped out of school and went back to being an artist. The best part is that I got to keep my position in neuroscience research, and am still working in that part-time. Science feels a lot like art, except that the execution of an idea requires different materials than I'm used to using.

Anyway, here's what I've been working on recently: a series of seven paintings that take a Kantian approach to objects as transcendental schema—finding the "Tree" within three overlaid individual trees (in this case, Baobab, California Live Oak, and Dawn Redwood). Here is the finished painting (shown first), followed by previous iterations of watercolor underpainting leading up to it, in chronological order.

I also did another piece based on a similar concept: "Islands", which depict three overlaid islands, both from perspective view and an aerial view. They are loosely based on an island in the Stockholm Archipelago (which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever had the privilege of visiting), Tuckernuck Island (part of Nantucket), and Föhr, an island on the Danish border of Germany, and the birth- and death-place of a beloved lifelong friend of mine named Tilly, who died at age 96 last year.

I've started another one, "Bridges" which is by far the largest watercolor painting I've attempted. I plan to complete seven of the series in total, with "Towers", "Birds", "Ships", and "Tunnels" yet to come.

In any case, it's good to be back. And, as always a big "thank you" to my fans of the Cheimonette Tarot. Your continued patronage, kind words, and enthusiasm has given me the confidence to return to making art. If the Cheimonette Tarot continues to be so successful, then maybe I can make more things that people will love.

Lots of Love,


The Great Ineffable

In July of 2012 I went to Portugal to give a talk on Occupy Wall Street and public spaces in the United States at an international conference about cities and social justice, at the University of Coimbra. (I have my friend Ella to thank for this entire endeavor—not everyone can manage to generate so much inspiration in me from such a minimum of in-person friendship, but Ella has truly wondrous talents in this regard.) My talk there did not go especially well. The skills I have developed over the years for public speaking come and go, and, in the clutches of a tremendous undertow of heartbreak, loneliness, existential crises, and politics, my confidence rolled merrily out to sea with the tide. All in all, it was probably okay.

The conference was replete with people backed by large institutions, and I was the only one I knew who wrote a paper independently. Perhaps my shy speech went over with the rest of the group in the way of Van Gogh's lousy table manners or Wagner's appalling romantic life.

"Well, she's an artist, after all!"

I can only hope.


Before visiting the tiny little medieval town of Coimbra (Portugal's old capital, and at present a hotbed of abstract science and impassioned student anarchists, to my great delight), I spent four days in Lisbon. I had a lot to think about, and Lisbon, with its beautiful buildings spanning more than a thousand years (Lisbon is also one of the most cheerily colorful cities in Europe: baroque buildings in soft easter egg colors, red roofing, elaborate painted tiles, and Lisbon's special mosaic Portuguese pavement all contribute to the riot of complex visual noise, subsiding abruptly into peaceful monotony when your eye reaches the mouth of the Tagus river), was ideal for the sea wave-gazing, bonfire-gazing, train window-gazing, aquarium fish-gazing impulses I have when I have a lot on my mind.

Watching the world go by, and watching its constituent parts describing the internal architecture of the great natural entities: oxygen, water, the vernacular growth of cities and townships, the melt and swell of geological landscape sculpture, the role of the ego in a larger world (the fish moving ever so slightly with the surge, building on the current like a dancer uses the movement of her partner to execute a high kick or rotation), is an ideal blank canvas for thinking. Order is forever in love with chaos.


I'd wander the streets of Lisbon all day long with my sketchbook, listening to the sounds of the city, daydreaming, drawing and writing down whatever came to mind, but mostly letting my mind wander while I trudged up and down the steep cobbled streets and alleyways of the city.

I seemed to grow smaller during the day, as though my mental hurricane dried up in the powerful heat of the summer sun. I let all the terrible thoughts fly out of me, like a tower filled with blackbirds against a hot, white sky. At night, I filled my mind back up with books. One of the books I read was "Just Kids", Patti Smith's story of her life-long relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It was the best love-story I've ever read. Patti and Robert made an enormous amount of art together, and supported each other through incredibly hard times. They went through phases of sharing absolutely everything together, and growing apart and into solitude or the lives of others. They remained inseparable in so many ways, but also seemed, almost effortlessly, to avoid the mistake so many make in love: mistaking the beloved for yourself.

“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”

Total intimacy, total freedom. The most beautiful thing in the whole world.

"The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in this seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It's the artist's responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.”

Sao Domingos
Sao Domingos

This book articulated what I had always believed about my life's work and about human connection. The fact that I have never loved Patti Smith's music (though I have always respected it) merely added to this feeling of oceanic solidarity; if I can find such a treasure in a gift that is not meant for me, than I am more intimately connected with the world than I had dared to hope.

Alone in my guesthouse room, jumbled among the rooftops and jutting chimneys, with the moon hanging low in the sky and the fantastic heat of the summer nights, I felt something like relief, like salvation, like happiness, although I was not yet happy. Nobody could tell me any longer that what I wanted did not exist. Slowly, the strictures surrounding my identity were crumbling away. It was a process that began in the years after middle school, and accelerated when I met my present community. It is an ongoing process today.

Last week my friend Conor shot and killed himself. He was not a very close friend, but he was a friend, and he was a part of my community, my chosen family. There was this one night that Conor got pretty drunk and needed a place to stay overnight, and I was happy to be able to lend him my bedroom. I could tell that things were hard for him, and it felt like such a huge gift for me, to be able to do something for him. I was so happy to be a part of his safety net. It reminded me that I was, for the first time in my life, part of a community. It reminded me that I wasn't alone. Every time I saw him at a party, I tried to edge my way into a conversation with him to see how he was doing. Although Conor so tragically did not survive this depression, the fact that he did reach out felt like a gift, and one that included me. Conor's depression took so much away from him: his sense of intimacy (though it was there for him all along), and his freedom (which was, heartbreakingly invisibly, within his reach too).

I don't really feel that we, Conor's friends and community, failed Conor. I wish more than anything that there had been something to prevent him from that last and final fall—a serendipitous situation, a friend in the right place at the right time, a windfall of rationality and common sense, blind luck, anything—but ultimately I think that we belong only to ourselves. I wish he could have seen that it was going to get better, or felt (as I feel) that life was an irresistible adventure, even in the midst of terrible suffering, and that he couldn't help but stick around to find out what happened next.

The End
The End

To all those (my smart, sarcastic, jolly friend Luke, my sweet friend Conor, my artist-dancer role model Lisa, my Russian bear of a childhood friend Dima) in my life who have taken their own lives, and to the many more who have been tempted or who have tried, please reach out. You are alone and you are not alone. You belong to yourself but you are surrounded, inundated, by a fine, filamented web of love and generosity, which will reach out to you if you can only find out how to reach out to it. Keep trying, please, and hold on.

I miss you so much.


The End of the World

The end of the night is a little like the end of the world sometimes, when you wake up from your dream or your nightmare, when you wake up from the daze of love and find you were in love with a ghost, when you realize that you've been working for eight hours straight in the dim shadows of the early dawn. It's over. Ready or not. Lately, I’ve been pulling a lot of late nights and all-nights, working on my paintings and writing, deep in the wonderful trance that artwork and writing generate, and nothing else exists for a while. Next to my art table, I’ve got a few prints of Mondrian’s trees, and I like to look up at them sometimes, while I work.

Tree, 1912. Piet MondrianIf you’re thinking “Trees? Wasn’t Mondrian that guy who exclusively painted rectangles in primary colors?” then you’re in for a treat: Mondrian’s early work was startlingly different from his later obsession with rectangles. If you follow the early work (the trees in particular) chronologically, you can see how he got into geometry. He is clearly preoccupied by the way the trees divide and fracture the sky behind them. The spaces between the branches become more and more dominant until they swallow up everything else.

In the end, Mondrian throws out everything but the math and the primary colors: elementary particles of the world of the artist.

Ten years ago, I painted the last of the major arcana cards, The World. At the time, I was mad about abstract mathematics (not that I’m not still, I simply have learned to be less heavy-handed about it). I was just

The World, version 1

beginning the process of designing and painting my tarot cards, and I was still having trouble figuring out a method. My head was always a confusing tumult of images and ideas, and I usually didn’t know how they would fit together until I put it all down on paper. I would sometimes go through four or five unsatisfactory card paintings until I got it right (energetically tearing up an unacceptable card, catharsis suffusing me with each shred of paper that fell to the floor). I was in the process of teaching myself how to use watercolors. I had never done a large-scale art project before. So, there was a great deal of trial and error, but by the time I had gotten to the World card, I had refined my process to a gracefully attenuated point.

As much as I was inclined towards the final card of the tarot’s major arcana, I found (and still find) the World a challenging card to interpret. After all, it is a word that is meant to encompass everything. Where are we even supposed to begin? Going through the knucklehead prehistory of our current understanding of the universe is of little assistance. Both the Rider-Waite and Thoth images of the World are symbolic representations of the human experience (which, actually, is what all the science we have on the subject amounts to as well), so I decided to begin with us—specifically, with the foundations of identity: our place within our environment. As the Fool is a blank card, depicting an entire lack of experience or identity (and the Angel is the Fool’s transformation from an empty vessel into a divine being), the World must be about the acquisition of a self, and of a relationship with the universe outside the self.

The first version of the World was made of math: two trees composed of infinity signs (and whose shadows reveal them to be the Trees of Life and Knowledge), with a child in the space between them (demarcated as human and therefore finite by the “1” inscribed on her hand), orbited by a cluster of zeroes or planetary bodies. This is one story of the original bitten apple: how our species acquired almost godlike powers of understanding and control over our environment (though, as anyone can see, without any of godlike powers of foresight which comes along with the dubious ability to live indefinitely).

Which brings us (somehow, but you’ll see, just you wait) to a tiny little jewel of a poem by ee cummings, from his book “95 Poems”.

wild(at our first) beasts uttered human words —our second coming made stones sing like birds— but o the starhushed silence which our third’s

Within the jumbled flavors of human evolution, religion, sound, and sex, the poem has always seemed to be about the arc of creation and destruction. Language, technology, and a strange cosmological quiescence at the end: the human body, the human race, the planet, and the whole universe will ultimately destroy itself, much in the same fashion in which, in the beginning, it created itself.

I did not have a clear notion of this when I painted my first version of the World (beasts uttered human words) back in 2004, but the velvety black shadows of the trees and the fury of the child between them seem to me to

The World, version 2

portend the last two versions, which I painted only in recent months (each painted all at once, in two

isolated all-night electrical storms of artistic energy).

The second World (stones sing like birds) has several of the same elements: the trees and the orbital band of

planets. The human child has vanished, and in its place is a black snake (or is it a serpentine hold in the fabric of the universe, through which the great eye of some god or monster shines?) The moth of the swords

suit (the same moth first introduced in the clothing of the pregnant, masked figure in Death) hovers above the trees, whose roots and branch tips intermingle in a

The World, version 3

continuous ring. In the third World (but o the starhushed

silence), the trees are replaced by golden serpents (a duplicate version of the

Ouroboros world

serpent, eating its own tail, a representation of a primordial and eternal unity). The death

moth has vanished, and no central figure exists between the trees and their orbiting

planetary belt.

What began as a human child and transformed into a black serpent with a human eye has ended in simple darkness, as though it is an open portal into some other world, brand-new and unknown.

As though the world had already ended and nothing was left but a cloud of postexplosive, poststellar material gathering itself along the last remaining vectors of gravitational and electromagnetic forces. As though nothing was left but the mathematical principles behind the grand set of the physical laws of the universe.

The World card, last of the major arcana, is really the end of the world. Only upon the conclusion of the bigger story do we discover its meaning.

This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.

The Kickstarter to fund its publication is currently live! Pre-order a deck or the artwork here.

The Maiden and the Beast, or, How I Crossed the Egyptian Border in a Bikini

View of the Red Sea from Eilat I've talked about Fortitude before on this blog, but it's one of those cards that keeps coming up this summer. I wanted to focus on this card specifically, rather than just on its connection to the Devil.

Fortitude: where did it come from?

Fortitude is the eleventh trump card in the tarot, today commonly known as "Strength" (in the A.E. Waite deck, Strength shows a young woman and a tamed lion genuflecting at her feet, and older decks, dating back to the 16th century, usually depict a person either subduing a lion or breaking a stone pillar). In my card, the central characters of "the maiden and the beast" remain, but the maiden is a naked, winged woman, blindfolded as though she fancied herself the statue of blind Justice on the steps of our Supreme Courthouse, and the beast is a headless, charging horse.

Weridly, a headless horse with open, seeing eyes.

Although I created this image in 2004, my understanding of the beast in Fortitude didn't really crystallize till the summer of 2012, when I was in Israel/Palestine, working as a researcher and urban planner on the pilot project of an NGO think tank based in Tel Aviv. To inexcusably collapse what is a very long and involved story, I consistently had a difficult time with border guards and other IDF staff while I was there. I don't know precisely why it happened, but my luggage was always given a special search, I was always taken aside for meticulous questioning, and I usually had to provide contacts from work for them to call to confirm that I really worked there. Sometimes there were more profound intrusions into my private affairs and possessions. I obviously wasn't an ordinary Jewish tourist, and I didn't have any family to vouch for me there. The fact that I was there to work for several months baffled and alarmed the guards, and I quickly learned that my naïve explanations about working for human rights and social justice only made me suspicious and strange.

About a month before my contract was up, I planned to take a trip down to the Red Sea to do some diving. I hopped on a bus after work, rode with a pile of sullen young people dressed for a European discothèque and a scattering of shrieking tourists and their comatose, sunburned children, and was deposited at the door of a tiny diver's hostel at 11 pm. The temperature had dropped (it was late July) to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the labored breathing of the four walruslike men sleeping on the bunks in the dorm room mingled with the waves breaking on the beach just outside to create a peaceful white noise. I fell asleep in my bathing suit, which, as daytime temperatures regularly reach 125 degrees in the Negev desert, became my only outfit for the three days I was there.

After two days of good diving, someone at the dive shop suggested I go to their partner dive shop, just over the border in Taba, Egypt. Egypt's relationship with Israel no longer had any pretense of friendliness at that time, and the Israeli dive instructors and divers couldn't go, but I could. They told me to grab my passport and dive log and get in a car, as one of the staff was heading that way anyway. It was a small miracle that I decided, at the last minute, to bring my sandals. I had (and I should certainly have known better) thought we would simply drive over the border and I would be left at the Egyptian dive site for the day, but to my astonishment, the young driver cheerfully indicated that I had to get out and walk over the border. "Taba dive shop just over there," he said. "Walk on left side of road through border patrol and turn left after donut shop." Of course I was still in my usual round-the-clock outfit: a faded, flimsy, purple bikini.

I was nearly alone, standing in line. Desert insects droned, and the border terminal was quiet. A German family outfitted in tropical print clothing stared humorlessly at me. The immaculately dressed Egyptian border guards continued to gaze straight ahead, impenetrably grave. The resort town of Taba, in the middle of the day, was mercifully somewhat deserted, but occasionally a traditionally dressed couple would stroll by, carefully training their eyes at the pavement, away from me. Both religious Muslims and Jews have a culture of modesty in dress, especially for women, and I was sure that I seemed like an affront, an alien and an outsider without the humility or common decency to respect local traditions as I intruded myself into their home. I had always been careful to dress plainly when I was in traditional communities, with my arms, neck, and legs covered and my hair tied back, and here I was in a string bikini. I was at this point heavily encrusted with the salty residue of evaporated sea water, my bruise-colored bikini was frayed in several places, and I found out later that there was a ribbon of seaweed tangled in my hair. I took some comfort, at least, in the fact that I didn't look like I was trying to be sexy.

The young guard at the border had the good grace to giggle a little when he asked me if I was carrying any concealed weapons.

After one of the best days of diving I had ever experienced, I had to walk over the border again, this time through the Israeli terminal. My scantily dressed swamp monster appearance did not seem to dampen the usual suspicion I created, and I wound up in the private office of a soldier, perspiring into a leather chair while she regarded me dubiously from behind her desk.  For the first time, I was asked if I was Jewish (I had always offered this information before). I said that I was, and, visibly relaxing, she began explaining why they had to ask me so many questions, excusing herself as though to a troublesome relative at a family reunion. I mumbled something I can't recall anymore, and dragged off towards a bus shelter, where I waited glumly for the Eilat dive shop to remember to pick me up again. Somehow, the apologies were even worse than the suspicion: I felt even less understood than I had before. It was, in fact, a somewhat risky thing I had done by going to Taba for the day. At that point in my trip, I had gone into the West Bank to stay at the headquarters of a Palestinian resistance movement in a small farming community. I had attended a protest against the acquisition of Palestinian land by local settlers. If the soldier had learned about any of this, I certainly would have been kept much longer for questioning, and I may have had more difficulty leaving the country as well. I doubt I would have had to spend time in jail, but it was not out of the question that I might have been held for 9 or 10 hours for questioning, or even had my electronic devices temporarily confiscated and forcibly inspected on my way out of the country. I was grateful to have gotten through relatively easily, but it was so strange to feel so naked and also so invisible. From where she was sitting, she really couldn't see me at all.


The headless beast in my card represents things that behave like people. The impetus that drives a person's life, work, or desires is bigger than interpersonal relationships, and includes abstract concepts and imaginative ideals: a cultural narrative, the dream of a better life, a union with the beliefs of a religious community, a story of a higher calling and heroism, the promises of a powerful corporation, the mythology of a whole nation. These entities (a nation, a corporation, a religion, a cultural norm, a philosophy) sometimes influence us as though they had feelings and thoughts of their own. As though they had desires. As though they understood us, and whispered the truth into our ears.

The State has eyes, but it has no mind. It may wander aimlessly, be guided by those who care for its power, or even race blindly towards its own destruction. The maiden's leap from the back of the beast is, like all leaps, a leap of faith. Despite being less powerful than the beast of a human institution such as culture, or religion, or country, she has come to trust herself more than she can trust authority. Even if she is leaping to her own death, she has a need to decide for herself. This courage, which is stronger than death, is Fortitude. And when I sat, shamed, nearly naked, confused and misunderstood by the agent of a mindless limb of the State of Israel, in the leather chair of the IDF soldier who thought she recognized me as one of her own, I realized I had not only taken that leap many years ago, but that the leap does not happen just once. It happens again and again and again, as new situations arise, and the beast attempts to fit us onto its back once again.

Is she foolish in her decision to leave the beast, and all its norms and known quantities behind?

The answer seems to be no: she has wings.

This post is part of a series about my deck, the Cheimonette Tarot.

Copyright 2014 - Cheimonette