The Art of Playing Cards

While I don’t gamble, drink or smoke – they are three things that not only seem to go together but have brought great joy to several important people in my life. I remember my grandparents and their cronies sitting around the card table with cans of dimes and nickels and cigarettes in hand saying things like “Deuces wild” and “Follow the queen”.

While I may not gamble, I have always found the seemingly simple deck of cards fascinating. Playing cards goes back as far as the 9th century when they were created in China. They have a history of political statement, artistry, banned use, symbolism and connections with games like Ganjifa and Mahjong. Of course we have moved from hand painted works of art to a tool for drinking games, but still, the simple deck of cards versatility and possibilities is vast.

The most expensive work of art ever sold is from French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne’s oil painting series called The Card Players completed in the early 1890s. It was sold in 2011 for something between $250 and $300 million. Um damn. However that is nothing compared to Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s work including poker playing dogs. Dogs Playing Poker is a series of sixteen oil paintings commissioned in 1903 to advertise cigars (boo – poor dogs smoking). The paintings feature anthropomorphized dogs, which of course I love.

Today I write about decks of cards because one of my photographs has been included in a body of work called Handful of Art. Fifty-two artists in painting, sculpture, drawing, collage, printmaking and photography have one piece each included in a deck of cards. You will notice that the deck is orange – while I had nothing to do with that decision I was very happy with the surprise! The work will be on display from June 19, 2013 – July 21, 2013 at the John Slade Ely House. I can pretty much guarantee nothing will cost in the range of $300 million, but you still should come check it out. I will be at the opening reception on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

JOHN SLADE ELY HOUSE

51 Trumbull Street

New Haven, CT 06510

203.624.8055

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