Austin Osman Spare – occultist, avant-gardist and ‘Britain’s first pop artist’ – Financial Times

A lengthy and interesting article about Austin Osman Spare in the Financial Times:

Collectors of the work of early 20th-century English artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare have, up until now, been of a type. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has a notable number of paintings, as did the late Genesis P-Orridge – founder of industrial sound provocateurs Throbbing Gristle. In his memoir, Orridge describes an acquaintance shaking and shouting: “Those paintings, cover them, they’re alive!” One particular work, The Ides, depicting two aggressive-looking self-portraits of Spare flanked by Romanian prostitutes, was turned to face the wall. Months later, after touring overseas, Orridge returned to discover house-sitters had turned the painting around and vanished, leaving rooms splattered with red paint. Spooked, Orridge sold the painting to Chris Stein of Blondie. Born in east London in 1886, the son of a policeman, Spare launched his career to a fanfare of critical acclaim with a solo show at the Bruton Gallery in 1907, which saw his distinctive black line compared to Aubrey Beardsley. He is often lazily lumped in with the pantomime shenanigans of fellow fin de siècle oddball Aleister Crowley. The two crossed paths many times and both developed their own alternative belief systems, incorporating sigils, grimoires and spells. The definitive biography of Spare by Phil Baker, Austin Osman Spare, The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist, also recalls Hitler inviting Spare to come to Berlin to paint his portrait (Spare refused), and Spare’s obsession with Ovaltine as an aphrodisiac.


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How many of us are sittting around now thinking “Shit. I should have bought that Spare in 1995”?

Michael Staley

Well, fortunately for me, I did buy “that Spare” in 1995, and am looking at it now – “Ghostly Amalgam” – whilst typing this. I do think that Spare is vastly underrated as an artist. Such an array of styles – the delicate sidereals of actors and actresses in the 1930s, the grotesques of the mid 1020s, the “Witches’ Sabbath” pictures of the early 1950s, and my particular favourites, the suberb pastels of 1954 and 1955. I’m equally interested in Spare’s written work, in particular the late writings of the late 1940s and early 1950s which were finally published in… Read more »

Michael Staley

“1020s” – obviously a tyo, meant to say “1920s”