The rather impressive, rather special Austin Osman Spare exhibition opened last night at the always delightful (and last night rather packed) establishment known as The Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities –
“Viktor Wynd takes great pleasure in inviting you to an exhibition of work by Austin Osman Spare, accompanied by the publication of a catalogue with specially commissioned essays by Phil Baker, Dr.William Wallace & Stephen Pochin. The exhibition will run until the end of September 2017. the exhibition opening will be generously supported by Hendrick’s Gin” – mustn’t forget the gin (even if we did get there too late).
It was busy at Viktor Wynd’s place last night, forgotten and famous at the same time, Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) is now a cult figure, much mythologised since his death. Controversial enfant terrible of the Edwardian art world, Spare was hailed as a genius and a new Aubrey Beardsley, but instead he fell out of the West End art scene and went underground, living in poverty and obscurity in South London. Absorbed in occultism and sorcery, voyaging into inner dimensions and surrounding himself with cats and familiar spirits, he continued to produce extraordinary art while developing a magical philosophy of pleasure, obsession, and the subjective nature of reality.
What you actually have here in the darkness amongst all the strangeness and the zebra heads with the narwhal unicorn horns of the museum, are some rather beautiful drawings, a delicious feel of line as well as a wonderful sense of the changing time they come from – 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… these drawings are wonderful. An artist as known to his followers for his writing and the myths surrounding him – since his death in 1956 he has been simultaneously forgotten and celebrated; a minor cult figure, collected by rock stars (Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin has a Spare collection), – it surely isn’t just about the magick or the mystery of the man though, it really is about these wonderful wonderful drawings, those faces, those lines, those people, the free flow and the natural visual language. An artist overlooked by most – however notable some of Spare’s art might be, his memory has been kept alive for many years more by cultists than art lovers – to actually get to see the work in the flesh is something really rather special, these drawings really are superb. Of course the art is here can’t be divorced from the esoteric magic(k), especially in this dark venue, but these really really are wonderful drawings.
“Austin Osman Spare (30th December 1886 – 15th May 1956) was an English artist and occultist who worked as both a draughtsman and a painter. Influenced by symbolism and art nouveau, his art was known for its clear use of line, and its depiction of monstrous and sexual imagery. In an occult capacity, he developed idiosyncratic magical techniques including automatic writing, automatic drawing and sigilization based on his theories of the relationship between the conscious and unconscious self” don’t you just love Wikipedia almost as much as YouTube…
If you you appreciate the unique art of drawing, of line, of form, the art of capturing something, a moment, a person, then this really is a show to see in the flesh. All the other stuff, the sprit of the age, that Edwardian brave new world of HG Wells and Crowley and Beardsley and Holst and where it was it all going as they learned to fly and then drop bombs on each other as they took war to a global scale (and Spare lost a large chunk of work in the blitz). Forget Time Machine, read War in The Air by HG Wells for a sense of what people thought might come – that feeling is here, the early 20th century, the exploring of other ways, a deeper spiritualism, magic, the ocult, the alchemy, sexuality, the mystery all here on the walls and all important, but the real magic is the drawings themsleves, the line and the form, those drawings really are something rather special. (sw)
The show is on until September at The last Tuesday Society, 11 Mare Street, Hackney, E8 4RS. There’s a lecture from phil Baker next Tuesday May 16th
“Phil Baker’s groundbreaking biographical study offers wide-ranging insights into Spare’s art, mind and world, reconnecting him with the mainstream art history that ignored him and exploring his parallel London; a bygone place of pub pianists, twentieth-century alchemists and gigantic owls”.
Phil Baker’s excellent Guardian piece
Some fractured photos from the darkeness of the opening night and some images “borrowed” from the internet and the Last Tuesday social media feed, click on an image t oenlarge or run the slide show, but as we do keep saying, drawings really can’t be viewed on line, do go discover the world(s) and the treaures of Austin Osman Spare…