Spare: A Fearful Asymmetry

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Stephen Pochin’s contextual study of Austin Spare’s ex-libris production is now available.

A Fearful Asymmetry is a limited edition hardback with an immense amount of visual material, featuring work by Austin O Spare, Frederick Carter, James Guthrie, Frank Brangwyn, Ricketts, T.S.Moore, Von Bayros, and Alfred Cossman. It proposes a continuity between ‘armorial’ devices and the symbolism present in these later ‘pictorial’ designs.

An excerpt from the Afterword:

What a feast of enquiry Stephen Pochin has laid before us! The title A Fearful Asymmetry, whilst invoking Blake also conjures up in the mind a convoluted, rolling Rococo flourish of scrolling, complex content in which Spare’s exuberance and mathematical exactitude contribute equally in limning out his pyrotechnical virtuosity.

In casting a searching beam of intense scrutiny on this delicious slice of Spare’s oeuvre, Stephen Pochin has performed an invaluable service to us all. Pochin supplies a master-stroke in alluding to the everyday sights of Spare’s city; statuary, heraldic beasts, street signs. Here, the banal is transformed. Realization arises from an evanscent, fleeting incident.

In these bookplates flicker the fascinating ghosts of a distant era. Spare’s bookplates provide, as a microcosmic paradigm, an insight into many of the artist’s most intimate preoccupations, and yet this is not their superficial or ostensible purpose. Usually, the bookplate is by definition the most constrained works of an artist’s output, being tailored, controlled and mediated by the desires of the individual commissioners, and to interpret, in a visual nutshell, the rank, interests or self-perceptions of the same. Not with Spare, however, and Pochin reveals as much.

Why? precisely because the bookplate deals with issues of self-perception, identity and ownership, intended as they are to be inserted into forms proclaiming the book owner’s interests, obsessions and (it has to be said), pretensions.  

— Dr William Wallace


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