Austin Osman Spare

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.

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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)

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Protection Against Evil People

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The Formula For Atavistic Resurgence

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The Death Posture

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AOS and his cats

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AOS painting in his studio

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2 thoughts on “Austin Osman Spare

    1. They’re intriguing aren’t they? He was such a talented painter in the traditional school that it enabled him to translate his visionary trance states in a way most ‘outsider’ artists can’t match.

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