This is a messy work-in-progress but it’s a starting point for me showing my thinking and the current interrelations in my areas of interest. I’m particularly interested in the intersection where ‘Brand’ becomes a magical language that effects change in the world through visual cues, and the intersection where Infographics and mapping can be used to convey both occult and design practices.
British artist and occultist 1886 – 1956
AOS is very interesting to me because of his depictions of the esoteric and the way he chose to express those ideas through diagrams, sigils and symbols that both reveal and hide the message.
He started out his artistic career at The Royal College of Art in London where his interest in strong line work (influences of Aubrey Beardsley and EJ Sullivan) apparently made him unpopular with the contemporary art scene. Throughout his life he worked in a variety of mediums: paintings, drawings, pastels and etchings. After developing his interest in Western Esotericism these subjects informed all his work from this point on and he developed his own powerful and unusual system of mysticism centred around his ideas of ‘Zos’ – the human consciousness and ‘Kia’ – the universal consciousness.
The Death Posture, 1913 (A self portrait. Interestingly the white horned statue of a woman is an ancient carving of Ishtar/Astarte that currently resides in the Louvre).
Many of his artworks from this time were ‘automatic drawings’ that were created during magical trance states and that he believed were created when his conscious mind was held at bay. The elements in his artwork which are of particular interest to me and my research are his use of sigils in his work. The sigils are created from words, letters, images and distilled into almost unintelligible symbolic diagrams. The messages within the sigils and their intent should bypass the conscious mind and find action in the unconscious mind. The desire and conscious understanding of both the practitioner (artist/occultist) and the viewer should be dispelled by the indecipherability of the sigil. It is preferable that neither viewer understands the meaning and that it is filtered through the unconscious mind and the meaning extracted without thought or desire.
“For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is in every way perfect.”
(Liber al vel Legis, Chapter 1, No.44 – Aiwass via Aleister Crowley, 1904)
The following quote expresses the feelings of a viewer who realised that Spare was creating diagrammatical infographics of his ideas as a method of communication, but that he did not have the necessary knowledge to understand them. Whether this is important or not is debatable as it was perhaps not the intention of AOS to communicate these ideas in a didactic form to a viewer who was uninitiated in the symbology of his mysticism.
In a 1914 review of The Book of Pleasure, the critic (anonymous) seems resigned to bewilderment, “It is impossible for me to regard Mr. Spare’s drawings otherwise than as diagrams of ideas which I have quite failed to unravel; I can only regret that a good draughtsman limits the scope of his appeal”.
(Review of ” The Book of Pleasure, the Psychology of Ecstasy” (by Austin Osman Spare) in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 26, No. 139, (Oct., 1914), pp. 38-39)
Protection Against Evil People
The Formula For Atavistic Resurgence
The Death Posture
AOS and his cats
AOS painting in his studio
I discovered David Chaim Smith a few years ago when looking for books of esoteric art online. His incredibly detailed and textured drawings represent his visionary kabbalistic practice. His use of symbolic language is beautiful and absorbing.
He has an MFA in drawing from Colombia University.
On his website he explains the purpose of Shiviti and Illanot:
“A shiviti is a devotional image which displays a divine name for spiritual practice. The term comes from the verse “I have set (shiviti) YHVH before me always” (Psalm 16:8). In its esoteric form, shivitis provide a graphic context for the visualization and contemplation of complex divine name configurations. The tradition of illanot is a bit different. It refers to the cartographic aspect, which is the diagraming of the complex kabbalistic phases of creation and creativity. They serve more as maps than devotional images. Both traditions are combined in my work. I have been making illanot, shivitis, magical seals, and all kinds of related talismanic images since the 1970’s. They have served a wide variety of functions; some traditional and some quite radical. Below is a mixed selection spanning the past 25 years. Some are rather crude, however all of them function in the service of a working spiritual practice, in a wide range of contexts and configurations. The basis of my practice is highly unusual, which the construction of these images reflects. In these pieces various aspects of hermetic and gnostic wisdom can be seen in an amalgam with the kabbalistic structures. It is through this bond that the scope of the devotional, contemplative, magical, and mystical applications of my work arises.”
“The Sacrificial Universe” – David Chaim Smith, Fulgur Esoterica, 2012