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The occult art of Austin Osman Spare
09:59 am

Austin Osman Spare was an outsider artist, an occultist, a writer, a philosopher of sorts, and a clarinet player in a jazz band called the Bulldog Breed. His career as an artist burst like a firework against a full dark night—a quick, bright, early success fading to a slow and unworthy decline into poverty, dirt, and virtual obscurity. The myths about Spare and his involvement with the occult often take precedence over his talents as an artist. This is a pity, as Spare was a tremendously complex artist who deserves far greater recognition than being tagged merely as someone who is collected by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

Spare was born into a working class family in London on December 30th, 1886. His father was a policeman, his mother the daughter of a Royal Marine. This was a no-nonsense, square-headed family who lived in a tenement in Smithfield—the city’s meat market district. Every day on his way to school, Spare had to wander through the busy market with its hanging flesh and blood splattered cobblestones. As an animal lover, he hated this brutal bloody carnage.

As a child, Spare showed a prodigious talent for drawing, which eventually led to his exhibiting work at the Royal Academy in his teens. There’s a story that his father, who was a stickler for correct English grammar, saw a news vendor selling papers with the headline “Local Boy Hung.” His father being an utter jobs-worth made his way across to the vendor to correct the word “hung” to “hanged.” It was only when he read the story did he realize this was not about some ghastly execution of a murderous youth but a report on his very own son having work exhibited at the RA.

His technique for line drawings saw Spare hailed as the new Aubrey Beardsley—who was then the fashionable Decadent artist of polite London society. This should have been a caveat. Fashionable artists tend to bloom and fall with the season. Spare’s startling early success—where it seemed nearly every art critic hailed him as the next big thing—soon vanished. It must have been galling and utterly confusing for him. In some respects, it could be argued that his background and his class went against him in the London art world. Add to this Spare’s growing interest in the occult, which saw George Bernard Shaw dismiss his work as “strong medicine” that was not to everyone’s taste.

His interest in the occult started with his early reading of Madame Blavatsky before moving onto Agrippa and then becoming friends with Aleister Crowley. Whatever happened between these two men to sour their relationship isn’t fully known other than Crowley described Spare as a “Black Brother”—an occultist who had failed to submit his ego for the advancement of learning—or in plain English, to submit himself to the will of the “Great Beast” or one Mr. A. Crowley.

A dabbling in the occult is always good copy when explaining why things turned out the way they did. Though Spare did devise his own magical rituals (which heavily influenced modern Chaos Magic) and beliefs involving Zos (“the body considered as a whole”) and its complementary force Kia—which were “symbolised anthropomorphically by the hand and the eye”—it is fair to say, he was ultimately probably a bit of a confabulist about his magical powers. He was later aided and abetted in this myth-making by fellow occultist and writer Kenneth Grant, who believed he had found his own personal magus in Spare. Unfortunately, Grant made up so much of Spare’s alleged magical powers that it is unclear as to what Spare actually did believe and what he actually practiced. For example, it was claimed Spare was inducted into the occult by an octogenarian witch who seduced him when he was a boy. Great story, but most likely false. Similarly, Grant wrote eloquently about Spare’s use of magical sigils where “any wish may be given symbolic form,” which was to a large extent true but never seemed to deliver the “particular desire in question.” Spare’s use of magic never extricated him from anything but seemed to keep him in the direst poverty, obscurity, and near starvation. A life of painting in a tiny darkened basement, where he collected stray cats and drawing portraits in pubs for beer and sandwiches. After Spare’s death in 1956, Grant claimed this kind of “intense disappointment” was the way by which Spare attained greater enlightenment. But of course!

Spare was a unique and consummate artist. He was a visionary in the tradition of William Blake or even to an extent Stanley Spencer. And while his belief in magic and the occult has relevance to his artwork it shouldn’t become the determining factor when appreciating Austin Osman Spare’s art which has an impressive range of styles and techniques, which has led some to describe him as “the first Surrealist” and even (surprisingly) the first Pop Artist.

But in truth, he wasn’t any of those things. He was just Austin Osman Spare, artist.
See more of AOS’s work after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:59 am
‘The Bones Go Last’: A film on occult artist Austin Osman Spare

Artist and Occultist, Austin Osman Spare playing the clarinet.

AOS, ‘55

Improvising an original theme


“Libertine to the Gods”

This photograph led me to The Bones Go Last, a film documentary on AOS.

This is a film about Austin Osman Spare, perhaps the greatest artist ever to be ignored / overlooked / considered too weird by mainstream art history.  Spare’s work embraced religion, the occult, sex, magic, atavisms, ghosts and cockneys in ways never fully understood, or adequately appreciated. 

It doesn’t have a title, yet. 

What it does have, and is gaining more of (perhaps as you read this) is footage of Spare’s extraordinary artistic works along with the South East London urban sprawl that he made his home, plus interviews with foremost authorities / experts / fanatics.

Discovering Spare is one of the most rewarding art appreciation experiences there is.  When completed this film will stand as a pretty good first step on that journey.

More information here.

Part 2 of ‘The Bones Go Last’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
07:36 pm
Alan McGee: Talks Magick, Music and his new Movie ‘Kubricks’

With Alan McGee it’s difficult not to be inspired to go out and do something great, something daring, like he did with Creation Records and Poptones and all the bands whose music defines the past 3 decades. His infectious energy glows and inspires, it fills you with his rich enthusiasms for life.

Just now McGee seems to be everywhere: he is making a film called Kubricks with the artist Dean Cavanagh; he’s writing his memoirs; he’s curating a music festival in Japan for 2013; he’s working on an art exhibition with musician Alex Lowe of Gun Club Cemetery; he’s thinking about returning to making records because most of today’s music is “awful”; and he’s also studying Aleister Crowley and Magick.

‘For the last 5 years, I have been studying Crowley / Osman Spare and the Chaos Magickians. I got into Crowley because everybody told me not to go there so, of course, I did and ended up at Chaos Magick.

‘I 100% love Aleister Crowley. The Book of the Law is my Bible. I love him. Anybody that is still demonised by the media seventy years later had to be on it and he was. He was the ultimate libertarian.

‘I believe in the power of will. If I want something to happen it does. It always has and that was before I read Pete J Carroll. I really wanted Creation Records to become massive and to get the biggest band in the world and I did.

‘I wanted to become rich and I did, which sounds crass but I come from Glasgow we had fuck all, so having money interested me and still does.

‘If I really want something it comes to me. That was before I learned you can do it with technique, we all can read the right books and be very accurate in what I want to achieve.

This might sound like arrogance, but it’s not. It’s just said in a matter-of-fact way, without any sense of ego.

‘I am almost a hermit in Wales, then I go and DJ or give a talk or work with Takashi, my Japanese friend on Tokyo Rocks and I become the old Alan/Rock ‘n’ Roll Alan, which I also enjoy.’

Most recently he bought a church.

‘I bought this chapel in Wales, as all the pubs and churches are for sale, so I bought it for 33K, has its own graveyard, it’s pretty posh, so that should be fun. I live on a ley line in Hay-on-Wye, everything that happens here is charged. The chapel is more for doing stuff that local people can interact with long term. I know Primal Scream want to do playbacks there etc. so, it’s going to be fun.’

Last month he was producing his first feature film Kubricks, written and directed by Dean Cavanagh, starring Joanna Pickering, Matt Berry, Gavin Bain, Anton Newcombe and, of course, McGee.

Dean and Alan became friends around 2008, after working on the hit on-line comedy series Svengali, which has now been made into a movie.

‘We formed Escalier 39 as a film company to shoot some DIY films. We talk a lot on the phone and have a lot of the same political and spiritual views on things so the film company seemed obvious to us. It’s an experiment really, to see if we can make films together.’

He pauses when asked what his role is in Kubricks.

‘Good question. Maybe as agent provacateur.’

Kubricks was shot over an ‘exhausting’ 5 days and is currently being edited. It’s tag-line is ‘Everything Is Synchronicity…Even Chaos!’ and is a new map to the world Kenneth Anger once filmed (‘I love Kenneth Anger…he’s an amazing dude’) of Magick and Art. Though McGee puts it more bluntly: 

‘I could say meta-physics, but the truth is we don’t really know, which is why we did it.’

Kubricks will released next year, which brings us to McGee’s next project, his return to music after his “retirement” five years ago, which led him to believe he had given muisc up completely. But the cancer of mediocrity spread by Simon Cowell and the piss-poor quality of current chart music has led McGee to rethink things, especially after an offer to organize music festivals in Japan.

‘Recently I have been helping curate stadium festivals in Tokyo for 2013, and I am enjoying it. So maybe I am moving back towards music. I don’t know, to be honest.

‘I do like films and books more than working with music but I find music easy to do, I sort of understand the music process and always have done.

‘I think music is awful at this point and it’s deliberate. Music is such a strong thing, with the message and the vibration and they want it now to be shit so it loses its impact on people. They are great bands around but they just are basically marginalised till they give in.’

Next up, is an exhibition with Alex Lowe, and another film with Cavanagh set in the recently acquired church..

‘Dean is already writing a script about the chapel, but to be honest we both have too many ideas.’

Long may that continue.


Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:46 am
Alan Moore: An introduction to Austin Osman Spare

In this fascinating but (far too) short clip, Alan Moore gives an introduction to the work of artist Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956), who he describes as “one of the most over-looked figures in British art history”. The obituaries for Spare’s death remarked “England had lost one of its best ever nude study artist.” Nearly sixty years after his death,  little is known about the artist outside of knowledgeable and specialist circles.

But Spare wasn’t only an incredible artist, as Moore points out, he was also “possibly the greatest English magician of the twentieth century.”

“I think that Magic offers the artist a new way of looking at their consciousness, and of looking at where they get their ideas from.”

Spare was an artistic prodigy, who was the youngest exhibitor at the Royal Academy, London. At the same time, he was developing his own esoteric beliefs, which brought him into contact with Aleister Crowley, and a relationship of sorts began, with Spare contributing illustrations to Crowley’s magazine Equinox. However, the friendship foundered and Spare alluded to Crowley in his book The Book of Pleasure:

“Others praise ceremonial Magic, and are supposed to suffer much Ecstasy! Our asylums are crowded, the stage is over-run! Is it by symbolising we become the symbolised? Were I to crown myself King, should I be King? Rather should I be an object of disgust or pity. These Magicians, whose insincerity is their safety, are but the unemployed dandies of the Brothels.”

Yet Spare did not give up on magic completely, rather he began his own particular mix of “repressed magic”, which fed directly into his art work. Spare became known for his “automatic drawing” - allowing himself to act as a medium to spirits to guide his pencil, creating inter-twined images of figures and faces on a page.

There are many different stories (some more incredible than others) about Spare and his involvement with magic and the spirit world. He was said to have the power of divination and premonition, and could accurately predict events long before they took place. He was also know for his dialog with “spirits” and “demons”, and after a fire at his studio, he fell under a mysterious ailment which left him unable to paint for 5 years.

Spare’s work had some odd admirers, in particular Adolf Hitler, who asked him to paint his portrait. Spare refused believing Hitler to be evil, and if he were a Superman, Spare was claimed to have said in reply, then he would prefer to live as an animal.

A biography on Austin Osman Spare by Phil Baker was published last year, and is now something of a collector’s item, while a small exhibition of his work was recently held in Glasgow.

Previously on DM

And now for our scheduled interruption courtesy of Mr. Austin Osman Spare


Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:20 pm
And Now for Our Scheduled Interruption Courtesy of Mr. Austin Osman Spare
11:26 pm
Posted by Jason Louv
11:26 pm