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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.

Safe as Houses by Catherine Kelly

My current work evolved from using a pack of cards as a metaphor to explore the randomness of life and the luck of the draw.

About Catherine Kelly

Teresa

Teresa  (1997).  Catherine Kelly.  Acrylic Screenprint on Canvas. 6 feet x 4 feet.

“My current work evolved from using a pack of cards as a metaphor to explore the randomness of life and the luck of the draw. The luck of the draw and its unfairness is a familiar aspect of everyday life.”

“Luck or randomness plays a key role. You can get a good hand playing cards or in life. How you play the game can involve personal skill and it can be difficult to assess whether the winners or losers at cards or life are due to luck or skill or both.”

“In any game of cards, as in the game of life, the needs of the individual and those of the group are often incompatible and therefore the metaphor of such a game provided and continues to provide me with a suitable vehicle to explore the struggle of human existence.”

Catherine Kelly, 1999 Catherine Kelly, 1999

Above: “I was concerned with how cards are played, and how the images on the cards themselves reflected aspects of daily life that are often accepted without question. Set against a neutral background each photograph mimics the careful construct of the ordinary playing card. Their uneasy familiarity highlights the fact that we seldom confront what is considered to be the norm.”

“The models chose their own contemporary outfits. The interesting differences that emerged were in themselves a commentary on contemporary perspectives and the new representations we continue to construct. The props and accessories for the photo shoot are as disparate as props produced on a computer and a golden plastic joke shop crown. They reflect the abstracted shapes of the hand held symbols of office; their artificiality is exaggerated without making them any the less convincing.”

Below: “Safe as Houses is a freestanding construction of printed gessoed MDF fashioned to resemble a house of playing cards. The hierarchical nature of the imagery on the cards is minimised in this instance, as each card is equally important if the structure is to stand.”

Safe as Houses

"The physicality of this playful construction and its placement in an art gallery separates it from the notion of a child's game and invites the viewer to question the existence of such a metaphor. I wanted to create some visual device that would be readily accessible and would communicate elements of experience that are common to all.”

Limited Edition of 230 packs, 52 cards + 2 Jokers, Bridge quality, silver edges. Available directly from C. Kelly.
About Catherine Kelly

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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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