The Art of AOS

 

Austin Osman Spare-Experiments in Relativity 1933
Austin Osman Spare-Experiments in Relativity 1933

As I noted in my previous post on the artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare he achieved acclaim and relative success at a very early age, exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Arts at 17, before becoming unfashionable and fading into a near total obscurity . Yet he was to remain a highly prolific artist up until his death at 69, experimenting with an array of styles, mediums and techniques.

Spare’s mastery of line was never in dispute, however the paintings in the Experiments in Relativity series, for which he coined the term ‘siderealism’, as well as the more occult influenced  work show that Spare was an excellent colourist. The paintings of characters from the grimy streets of Southwark, London and exhibited in local pubs reveal his brilliance as a portraitist.

I have included below a cross section of Spare’s art throughout his career. He has been called a Symbolist, Proto-Surrealist and a precursor of Pop Art, but Spare was first and foremost his own creation.

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Austin Osman Spare’s Tarot

Austin Osman Spare-Inquirer Card-Tarot Deck c 1906
Austin Osman Spare-Inquirer Card-Tarot Deck c 1906

Most of the occult artist Austin Osman Spare‘s experiments in cartomancy were believed to be forever lost (including the ‘Surrealist Racing Forecast Card’ pack, a real shame as this covers a number of my favourite things: art, cards, the occult and gambling), however in 2013 a hitherto unknown pack of 79 hand painted Tarot cards was verified as being the work of the art nouveau enfant terrible.

Influences from the Tarot of Marseilles and the Rider-Waite-Smith decks are evident in the design, however the idiosyncratic verve and  boldly brilliant use of line could only have been executed by the skillful hand and wild imagination of Austin Osman Spare.

 

 

The Phenomenon of Ecstasy

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Phenomene de l’extase -Salvador Dali 1933
Salvador Dali’s arresting photo-montage The Phenomenon of Ecstasy which features the photographic studies of Charcot’s female hysterics, originally accompanied the artist’s essay on the irrational aspects of art nouveau architecture; in particular the buildings of fellow Catalan Antoni Gaudi, in the magazine Minotaure. His contention that “the repugnant can be transformed into the beautiful” through an ecstasy achieved by continuous erotic activity and that the sexual abandon resulting from hysteria leads to a transformation of perception in art, architecture and indeed modern life markedly shows the influence of the Symbolist and Decadent movements of the latter 19th century upon the Surrealists.

Dreams of Desire 58 (Egon Schiele)

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Egon Schiele-Woman in Black Stockings 1913
In 1907 the seventeen year old Egon Schiele met the artist who he idolised and would continue to venerate to his death, Gustav Klimt (see Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt)Dreams of Desire 53 (Judith) and The Succubus). Klimt was known to be supportive of aspiring artists, however he recognised the talent inherent in Schiele and he took a particular interest in his protege’s career, generously buying and exchanging his own works with Schiele’s drawings, organising meetings with potential patrons and arranging models to sit for Schiele.

Although Klimt’s influence is evident in Schiele’s early work, he soon found his own distinctive style. The heavily decorative elements of Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Jugendstil are gone and in its place is raw, naked Expressionism. Schiele’s females nudes, often featured in provocative poses are emaciated and sickly looking with a distorted line that renders the figures close to grotesque. It is true that after his marriage in 1915 to Edith Hams that the models are more fully fleshed, however the doll-like appearance of these later studies makes them even more disconcerting.

In 1918 after a brief, tumultuous life which had included being imprisoned for exhibiting erotic drawings and considerable controversy for his use of teenage models (who tended to be juvenile delinquents) Schiele died in the Spanish Influenza outbreak that was gripping Vienna at that time, just three days after his pregnant wife Edith had died and only 8 months after the death of his mentor Gustav Klimt.