Thursday, 3 October 2013

Austin Osman Spare - The Square Peg in the Round Hole

"I'm closer to the Golden Dawn, Immersed in Crowley's uniform of imagery "

Born in 1886, Osman Spare did not turn out quite as his working class family had thought he might. They may have hoped he would climb the greasy class pole and make something of himself and in a funny way he did but not in the manner they probably wished for. You see chaps that drew scenes of a surreal sexual nature were not the done thing, certainly not in Edwardian England let alone Imperial Britain. And besides, what would the neighbours think?

Born Austin Osman Spare on 30th December in London, England he went on to be one of the most distinctive, idiosyncratic and individual artists to come from these green isles. But it wasn't just the sexual quality of his work that scared people but the glamour inherent in his art. And when I say glamour I mean it in the traditional sense - the representation of magic. 

Christianity had piggybacked Paganism for many years subsuming traditional Pagan festivals into their own. It was this fear, this loathing of all religions that were different to their's that the organised church determined to expunge anything other than Christianity, despised.

Austin Osman Spare was an occultist. His card was marked. No weirdo Druid types here thank you very much. No runes, no witchcraft.

"I'm living in a silent film, portraying Himmler's sacred realm of dream reality" 

What I like about the man's work is his ornamentation. It is not at the core of what he does but more an anxious embellishment surrounding the central themes. He decorates his art with what seems flourishes of art nouveau mixed with vivid symbolism. It is the latter that carries weight for I think symbols dig deep into our primal psyche recalling, much in the same way as hearing the ocean does, some deep,  elemental, long forgotten time when we hunted by the moon when we humans had closer connectivity to mother earth.

"Should I kiss the viper's fang  or herald loud the death of Man?"

Having met Aleister Crowley and dabbled with that man's philosophy, Spare went on to create his own. A magic less black and more graphite.

A grimoire is a textbook of magic. It details how to perform spells, the talismans required, the amulets (love that word) to be worn but also how to invoke ghosts, angels and spirits. Osman Spare created his own; books that is not spooks. Three were published - Earth Inferno in 1905, The Book of Pleasure in 1913 and finally The Focus of Life in 1921.

It was a long way from Snow Hill or Smithfield where magic had little use as far as the inhabitants were concerned but remarkable to find someone practising such beliefs in England's capital at that time in history. Dangerous stuff indeed.
"I'm torn between the light and dark where others see their targets - divine symmetry" 

There are echoes of Aubrey Beardsley in the Cockney Spare's work. Both utilised that decorative style, that romantic embellishment of flair and fancy. Both drew in distinctive clear lines and, of course, the surrealists hauled Spare into their enclave but again I think this misleading. He really doesn't fit comfortably into the movement and if he is made to then he sits uncomfortably on a stool observing Dali and Breton and Ernst and Magritte with cynical detachment.


"I'm tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien, can't take my eyes from the great salvation obullshit faith" 

Such sharp shapes and fine lines. Such clarity. All are here to be seen. His imagination was immense. Few have come close to his delicate precision and yet, having become the unlikely darling of the surrealists era he faded into obscurity and poverty when those days gave way to the next fad. If he wasn't with them, and fashion is such a shallow mistress, he must be against them. He was discarded like an old hat; consigned to the dark corners where cobwebs gather fat flies.


"I'm not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with the  potential of a superman - I'm living on"

The sad truth is that someone coming from such a background did not fit the elite sphere needed to belong. He was rough, raw and of the lower class. His accent was wrong, his breeding poor and he lived in South East London where pimps, whores and criminals lived. I dislike the word outsider. It has often been levelled at me although not my work. It is yet another unpleasant tag, a convenient label affixed by those unsure of what to call it, how to define it and yet by virtue of their actions it was they who pushed him 'outside.'

For me, outsider art doesn't exist. Its tag implies that some sit outside while others remain inside. Inside what? 
Presumably being inside is a representation of having gained access to the system, or being part of the established order. This infers others, rebellious perhaps or class misfits, look from the outside in thumbing their noses? As far as I am concerned both parties are outsiders as the inside only exists in the imagination. I am not an outsider - I am me. Individual and distinctly different as was Austin Spare even if he was by several leagues my better.

There really is 'nowt as queer as folk.'

And living on he does in the manner of his art.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers. With grateful thanks to Mister Jones and Dolorosa


LeeKwo said...

Well another gem is revealed and its hard to believe that he stayed so unknown when his work is equal to most of the other surrealists/Great read and one day you must explain yr research technique that reveals these forgotten artists/Love the word [chaps]/The Himmler image is almost Blake like in its imagery/Regards Kwo

Tempest Nightingale LeTrope said...

As someone with a fascination with the occult, this is a great find! I was aware of Crowley, of course, and also Dion Fortune, but I hadn't heard of this fellow. He's certainly an impressive artist.
As someone who was raised Catholic, dabbling in the Occult was not the done thing in my family either. My mother once accused me of both necromancy and having sex with the evil spirits that I conjured up. Honestly, she has a much better imagination than I do. However, she has never had any interest in channeling it into writing. More's the pity--she might have gotten quite rich!

Russell C.J. Duffy said...

Tempest>>>Someone with more imagination than you? Get out of here. I think we all struggle to keep up. As for sex with evil spirits...I'd take sex with a chair leg at the moment and be happy with the splinters!!

BlackEmpress said...

Wow! I wasn't expecting magick & occultism here but what a magnificent find! Awesome!

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