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Playing cards have been with us since the 14th century, when they first entered popular culture. Over the centuries packs of cards, in all shapes and sizes, have been used for games, gambling, education, conjuring, advertising, fortune telling, political messages or the portrayal of national or ethnic identity. All over the world, whatever language is spoken, their significance is universal. Their popularity is also due to the imaginative artwork and graphic design which is sometimes overlooked, and the “then & now” of how things have changed.

The Big Deal

In ‘Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal’, Joan Gragg presents a first edition series of 1000 decks in which the characters, themes and patterns from traditional playing cards are replaced by Cook Islands cultural, environmental and societal icons.

Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal

Depicting daily life within a contemporary pacific society...

artwork for 2 of clubs, Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal

Above: original artwork for Two of Clubs, Caran D'ache water-soluble wax pastels.

For 32 years, Cook Island artist Joan Gragg has painted daily life in the Cook Islands.

In ‘Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal’, Joan re-presents her narrative within a first edition series of 1000 decks of playing cards in which the characters, themes and patterns from traditional playing cards are replaced by Cook Islands cultural, environmental and societal images.

back of cards, Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal

The cards depict the unique social attributes on daily display within a contemporary3pacific society.

Right: back design, depicting an appliqué and embroidered bed cover.

While it is obvious to reference the popular local card game of Uka, a flamboyant, effusive performance more often supplemented by raucous laughter, drinks, ei katu and cigarettes, Joan's choice of artistic delivery (the cards) offers a poignant comment on the transposable and economic nature of culture itself.

With the Cook Islands Tourism increasingly recognising the commodity value of culture within its international marketing, Joan has created an affordable tourist souvenir for re-export and constant destination advertising wherever the cards may travel.

A discourse on the Sino-Pacific relationship and how it can fuel pacific tourism awareness and preserve local identity ensues. Also brought into question is the debate on culturally specific products, their manufacture, supplication and inherent market perception. (Notes by Ben Bergman. BCA gallery Rarotonga.)

Packs are available directly from Joan Gragg at $NZ 45.00/deck plus postage.

“The inspiration for the cards came from a deck of cards given to me ten years ago called “The Deck of Cards” by Andrew Jones Art. Cards drawn by 56 British artists. Our family enjoyed them because they were challenging and really made you think as to what each card was but also made them difficult to use as playing cards.”

“Card playing in the Islands is very popular. In 2010 I decided to paint a deck of cards about the Cook Islands. I used elements from my previous work which focuses on recording impressions and every day humorous events that are taken for granted in the Islands.”

Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal Cook Islands Souvenir Playing Cards by Joan Gragg Patia Te Pere - The Big Deal Cook Islands Souvenir Playing Cards by Joan Gragg

Above: cards from Joan Gragg's "Playing Cards of the Pacific" Cook Islands Souvenir playing cards, 52 cards + Joker + extra card in hard box. Effusing vibrant energy in the colours and images, and an attractive way of presenting cards, giving a feel of the culture of the Islands.

“My deck of fifty four original paintings addresses some of the issues that made “The Deck of Cards” difficult to use when playing card games and especially Cook Islands euchre which is fast and rowdy. I have tried to incorporate into my deck elements like surprise, the twist on a subject, amusement, originality, intrigue, and fun. The four suits gave me a chance to paint four pictures of the same subject while the thirteen cards in each suit gave me the opportunity to also paint thirteen different subjects. Plus the joker.”

“The medium of water soluble crayons that I had bought in Auckland and loved because of their bright colour fitted my purposes perfectly. I worked in small format; 6 x 8.5 inches and restricted the colour for each suit using red for hearts, yellow orange for diamonds, blue for clubs and green for spades, further challenging my imagination and making it easy to identify the suits. I did at one time think it would be fun to not put any notation on the cards but card players insist on large lettering. I must admit we need the notation for euchre.”   The cards are printed in China.

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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

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Curator and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996.

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