Austin Osman Spare Exhibition

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The Maas Gallery, London, has confirmed that it will be hosting an Austin Osman Spare Exhibition from 31 October to 11 November.

The best of his work speaks for itself, especially seen in the flesh, with a finesse of touch and an auratic charge that all but defy reproduction. Reviewing a posthumous show, John Russell Taylor wrote “Dreamer of dreams or observer of film stars, Spare never seems to belong to the same world as the rest of us. He was at the very least a very rare and genuine eccentric; but so dazzling were his skills that he cannot be dismissed with the usual patronage.” His Times obituary noted “Of his technical mastery there can be no manner of doubt”, and very presciently added “The collection of his drawings may yet become a cult.”

This show [represents] Spare’s triumphant return to the West End after a seventy-five year absence…

Read More for the detailed Press Release
The Maas Gallery Ltd dealers in fine art
15a Clifford Street, London W1S 4JZ
Tel. 0207 734 2302 Fax. 020 7287 4836
Website: www.maasgallery.com
Email: mail@maasgallery.com

AUSTIN OSMAN SPARE EXHIBITION

Opening Day: 31st October 2005 12-8pm
Exhibition runs until 11th November 2005

Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) is now a cult figure, a mixed blessing which threatens to overshadow his unique talents as one of the strangest and most powerful artists London has ever produced. This show – Spare’s triumphant return to the West End after a seventy-five year absence – redresses the balance in favour of his art.

Son of a policeman, Spare was hailed as a prodigy and became the enfant terrible of the Edwardian art world. He was extravagantly praised by Augustus John and John Singer Sargent, who is said to have described him as England’s greatest draughtsman. More ominously, George Bernard Shaw reportedly thought “Spare’s medicine is too strong for the normal man.” Spare went on to become an official war artist and to edit the journals Form and The Golden Hind, but during the 1920s he parted company with fame and fortune and retreated south of the river to spend the rest of his life there, living (in his own words) as “a swine with swine”.

Living in tenements and finally a basement, Spare had gone underground, at least from the vantage point of the contemporary art world. But these were some of his most fertile years, whether he was drawing his fellow Cockneys or pursuing his occult and sorcerous obsessions. It is the latter that have made him legendary, and his life has been mythologised until the London Borough of Lambeth seems like somewhere out of H.P. Lovecraft.

Spare’s art, meanwhile, was also legendary. He was the man who could draw like Michelangelo, but sold his pictures for a few pounds apiece in local pubs. Excitable comparisons were made not just with Michelangelo but with Blake, Rembrandt and Durer, among others, often by viewers surprised to find that “real art” was still being made in the modern world.

Spare was an inspired figurative artist who straddled the centuries, moving from the aftermath of Beardsley, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Art Nouveau to become – at least in the eyes of critic Mario Amaya – the first Pop artist. One of the most remarkable things about his art is its extraordinary stylistic range, but it escapes any suspicion of pastiche by the sheer intensity with which he inhabits his different modes: all of them are unmistakably “Spare”, from hideous linear grotesques to radiant pastel nudes.

Spare experimented with automatic drawing some years before the surrealists adopted it, and later developed a technique of anamorphic distortion he termed “siderealism”, combining a sensuous line with an uncanny perspective to produce an exquisite Art Deco stylisation. He is impossible to pigeonhole, except as a genius; neither the Edwardian decadent nor the proto-Surrealist he has sometimes been presented as, he could almost have been invented to embody what Peter Ackroyd has called the “Cockney visionary tradition.”

The best of his work speaks for itself, especially seen in the flesh, with a finesse of touch and an auratic charge that all but defy reproduction. Reviewing a posthumous show, John Russell Taylor wrote “Dreamer of dreams or observer of film stars, Spare never seems to belong to the same world as the rest of us. He was at the very least a very rare and genuine eccentric; but so dazzling were his skills that he cannot be dismissed with the usual patronage.” His Times obituary noted “Of his technical mastery there can be no manner of doubt”, and very presciently added “The collection of his drawings may yet become a cult.”

Phil Baker

IMAGES SUPPLIED

Self-Portrait with Dragon
Signed and dated: Jan AD 1906 Austin O. Spare
Pencil, black ink and grey wash heightened with gold
370 x 260mm

Self-Portrait as Satyr
Inscribed “Ex-Libris Pickford Waller”
Signed and dated AAOS by Austin O, Spare MCMXXI
Pen and ink
190 x 190mm

Standing Nude [illustration for The Golden Hind, October 1922] Signed AOS
Pen and ink
360 x 190mm

Primogenial [illustration for The Focus of Life, 1921, p9] Signed AOS and dated 1920
Pencil
534 x 368mm

Derivation of Ginger Rogers
Signed AOS, titled and dated 51-54
Pencil heightened with watercolour
300 x 300mm

Violetta
Signed AOS [c.1930]

Self Portrait
Signed AOS and dated ‘09
Pen and ink
185 x 190mm

Night Fantasia
Signed AOS [c.1921] Pen and ink and watercolour
400 x 280mm

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