Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) was a visionary artist, decadent occultist, and charismatic eccentric who made the scene in London's West End during the turn of the last century. Celebrated by the likes of Aleister Crowley, Jimmy Page, and Genesis P-Orridge, Spare's dark star is rising once again. The Guardian has published a brief bio of Spare, written by Phil Baker whose new biography, Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist, is just out from Strange Attractor Press. Also available is a limited edition art print of the book's cover image, titled "Experiments in Relativity" (1933, pencil and watercolour). From The Guardian:
Born in Smithfield in 1886, the son of a policeman, Spare was something of an enfant terrible on the Edwardian art scene, where he was hailed as the next Aubrey Beardsley. He experimented with automatic drawing some years before the surrealists, went on to work as an illustrator and war artist, and edited the journals Form and the Golden Hind. Not everyone liked his work, and George Bernard Shaw is alleged to have said "Spare's medicine is too strong for the average man." Too strong or not, the odds were already stacked against him by the hidden injuries of class; lacking in education and the social skills to get on in the metropolitan art world, Spare's career foundered in the early 1920s and he fell back into working-class life south of the river, living in a Borough tenement block as – in his own words – a "swine with swine...""Cockney Visionary" (The Guardian)
It is a commonplace to say that this or that figure lived from the era of the horse and cart to the first jet planes, conveniently forgetting that the same is true of millions of other people from the same generation, but Spare really did inhabit his times in a quite distinctive way, living from the dog-end of the Beardsley era, keeping on with the Edwardian cult of Pan in his satyr-pictures, then embracing the heyday of Hollywood Babylon and the social changes beyond; one of his postwar pub portraits is called Docker with National Teeth – NHS dentures were still a novelty at the time.
Spare's art has an equally broad spread; the most striking thing about it is the chameleonic range of styles, from carefully finished pastel portraits to figures emerging from rapidly scrawled calligraphy, unified only by the fact that he could really draw...
Austin Osman Spare by Phil Baker (Strange Attractor)
"Experiments in Relativity" limited edition art print (Strange Attractor)
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.