Cockney Rebel: Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare-Portrait of the Artist 1907
Phil Baker’s excellent 2011 biography of the gloriously eccentric artist/magician Austin Osman Spare should hopefully revive interest in an unjustly neglected London artist. Hailed as the new Aubrey Beardsley at the tender age of 17 he fell into obscurity and lived in Dickensian squalor  when the satyrs and general air of Yellow Book decadence that impregnated his drawings fell out of fashion after the First World War. Later years saw Spare inventing his own idiosyncratic form of magic involving the intensive use of Sigils; using automatic drawing techniques years before Breton posited Surrealism as pure psychic automatism, hanging out with The Great Beast himself Aleister Crowley; hawking his ‘Surrealist Racing Card Forecast’ cards (a divinatory artwork to help you pick winners at the races) in the back pages of the Exchange and Mart, experimenting with anamorphosis in his Experiments in Relativity series which in their use of film stars could be said to have anticipated Pop Art, and holding art exhibitions in dodgy South London pubs.

Because of his self-mythologizing tendencies and the willingness of certain friends to give credence to his amazingly tall tales he has gained a certain cache in occult circles since his death. The above Portrait of The Artist is in the private collection of Led Zeppelin guitarist and previously avowed Crowleyite Jimmy Page.

Like Blake, that other inspired Londoner, Spare created his own system rather than be enslaved by another man’s.

Austin Osman Spare-Joan Crawford 1933

32 thoughts on “Cockney Rebel: Austin Osman Spare

  1. That’s very interesting about automatic drawing. Another thing I hadn’t really known about with the Surrealists although I got the automatic thing. I wonder what the particular techniques were; e.g. I have some books on art therapy bc I thought maybe I could do a second career as an art therapist for autistic children and mentally disturbed adults. But there was no money in it and the profession is heavily regulated in NY (meaning you have to pay a fortune and spend a million practicum hours to get credentialed.) I also bought some books on hypnotism, being interested in that and the technique, to hypnotize myself out of a driving phobia, but the most informative ones were prohibitively expensive. Anyway, very interesting. BTW, if you want an interesting read on my blog, one of the best is here:

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      1. Yes, I was! Baltimore about 1997 or 1998 to 1999. Where did you live and why Baltimore? I was in Fells Point for a while but it was dirty and lonely so I moved out to where the Jews live but that was a disaster. But I would not have moved back to Fells Point…I would have moved back to Washington, DC where my grandfather lived. I was living in Baltimore so I could take care of him/keep an eye on him but I couldn’t find a job in DC at the time.


      2. My wife has family in Baltimore I lived around Charles village and worked at the polo grill near John Hopkins university it was owed by the kaplans who were Jewish,,, did you live in owings mills, west side at least


      3. That’s a compliment. I like Highsmith– have read just the Talented Mr. Ripley. But it’s my sort of thing except with more more psychoanalysis, symbolism, and expressionism. (Like DH Lawrence Expressionism, rather than Surrealism, I think, or like Roland Topor.)

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    1. Both would have been influenced by Beardsley, and Spare was quite the prodigy for a while before falling out of fashion. I love the Surrealist Racecards myself.Spare has made a bit of a comeback, there was an excellent biography about him in the last couple of years.

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  3. I admire the vision of the artist who ‘sees’ in his own mind and reproduces it on canvas or film or whatever medium. I sometimes feel like a mimic. A copyist in my art. I suppose it’s the only way to get better. I hope some day I have ‘vision’ like that. Expect more of me Mr. Cake. It’s been a transformative couple of days.

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      1. Good morning. I hope you’ve recovered from the weekend? I feel less restrained here. I’m rather weary of watching what I say. I suffered through an argument over the book I was reading, if you can believe it.

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