Whitehot Magazine

Aaron Osborne: Drawing Connection Through a Deck of Cards

Aaron Osborne, The St. Tammany Parish Major Arcana Deck, installation

By VICTOR SLEDGE February 26, 2024

When multimedia artist and Emmy-winning production designer Aaron Osborne first picked up a camera out of a second-hand store, he didn’t expect to find himself producing his own exhibitions for the next few years to come. In fact, he didn’t even know he had a series to exhibit in the first place.

“The cards found me in a way. I got the camera. I took the photos. I started dye transferring them. I realized that I was going to start making cards with them, but I had no idea up front,” Osborne says. “This was not like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I’m going to do. This is what I’m doing.’”

Now, for over three years, Osborne has been living with his series The St. Tammany Parish Major Arcana Deck. It’s a body of multi-media work based on the framework of the Major Arcana tarot deck, and it’s been growing and changing in the way that Osborne and his audience experience it since its first showing.  

As an artist, Osborne works to interrogate and illuminate the connections and fragmentations in humanity. Soon into working with this series, he realized that it would be an inventive, artful way to continue that work.

Double Down, II

“There’s a feeling of separation in our world that I fight so hard against in who I am as a human,” he says. “So it all became about connection.”

Maybe one of the most pertinent examples of connection he’s found in this work is through doing tarot readings with willing participants at his showings. The cards he created and how people engage with them are already a step into their soul, but Osborne takes the next level to create an atmosphere of intimacy between him, the work and the viewers. 

“The relationship between the imagery and the people all became a part of this amazing dialogue,” he says. “But it’s even more intimate if the person is willing to go there with you and that kind of intimacy has really played out as I’ve done everything. It’s the thing I search for the most.” 

With his latest work, Osborne also finds that intimacy in walking with people through their experience with the cards. Tarot cards, by nature, are a personal, reflective look into one’s life. It takes a certain level of spiritual vulnerability to even engage with a tarot reader. Each card may translate differently for every person, and there is no one way to interpret what that may look like. The same goes for Osborne’s work. 

For him, each card has a particular meeting that came to Osborne after much thought and consideration about his own life and experiences. 

“That’s a bit of the magic of the creation for me because there’s a meditation to the creation that brought me to each step,” he explains. “What I want to do is communicate myself and how I’m feeling and hopefully communicate with viewers in that way.”

Sonder, II

But in a series that offers the potential for such a unique interpretation from each viewer, Osborne isn’t invested in everyone else having the same experience with the cards as him. 

He remembers listening to how the cards resonated with viewers at different showings and how deeply the cards would speak to any given viewer’s life in a completely different way than they did with Osborne while he was in the process of creating the cards. People may have been off assuming that their interpretation aligned with Osborne’s, but Osborne focused on the depth of that interpretation, not how much it aligned with his own.  

Now, having lived with the work since before the pandemic began, Osborne has had time to grow with his deck and how it’s impacted people. As an artist interested in the connections we make through art, these years of new minds and spirits helping the work live and breathe have inspired an expansion on the series. 

“I’m doing my ‘since-the-pandemic’ version of the deck, and all these people are becoming part of it,” he says.  

It’s only fitting that a series based on something as organic and spiritual as tarot cards has grown through the way that people have interacted with them over the years, especially as a series that found its stock in human connection during a time where we were so separated. Osborne’s expansion seems to be leaning even further into how the cards can help us discover the overlap between ourselves, the world we live in and each other. 

“I feel like the cards are my tool, and I’m hoping that when people see them that the conversation continues and they can be their tools as well,” he says.

With the new deck of mixed-media collages, Osborne also plans on adding an element of artificial intelligence. AI is a tool that has grown exponentially in the art world since the pandemic began, and Osborne is interested in how it can make the viewer experience with his work even more personal. 

“I’m just starting to interface my work with AI,” he says. “AI wasn’t a part of how I created the original works, but it’s what’s on my mind as I’m dealing with some of it.” 

Ten, VI

For example, Osborne is exploring the idea of using AI to do tarot readings at his showings. And it’s innovative ideas like this that will maintain that balance in this series between human connection and pushing the envelope on the series’ artistic merit. 

“Now the cards will be fed into AI as a finished product, not as a part of the process. Because I feel like the more human, real and communicative you can be at this point of who you are and where you are, the better,” he explains. 

Even with AI, Osborne is dedicated to the humanity of his work, and that may be through the element of spirituality people bring to the work within or even the way we navigate humanity itself as tools like AI continue to grow. 

“That’s what I feed on the most. I really think it’s the most precious thing, your spirituality. The cards are definitely a tool for that,” he explains. And through that I can find a way that humanity can live as we grow and adapt to the fast-moving, mechanical process that’s around us.” 

As for where his work is going next, Osborne isn’t pressured to define or chase it. The same way The St. Tammany Parish Major Arcana Deck came to him, Osborne is letting his next series come to him as well.  

“Who knows what the next thing will be? I can’t even say. Right now, I just have to live in this mess I’m in,” he says.

You can learn more about Osborne on his website, www.aaronosborneart.com and following him on Instagram @aaronosborneart. WM

Victor Sledge

Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia.  He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic. 

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