Austin Osman Spare

Visual arts, music, poetry and other forms of art.
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Jiva
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Austin Osman Spare

Postby Jiva » Thu Feb 11, 2016 1:27 am

This is something I’ve been thinking of asking for a long time: what do people think of Austin Osman Spare? Aside from Crowley – and perhaps Kenneth Grant – he’s probably the UK’s most prominent occultist, but I’ve never really understood or ‘got’ his work.

I’m most familiar with The Focus of Life which I consider obviously influenced by Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, but it’s still a mystery to me. Basically all the illustrations are surreal pornography (they remind me of a psychedelic Lucian Freud somehow) and, although much of the text deals with sexuality and desire etc., I never saw much relationship between them.

Still, even though he wanted to avoid being linked to anyone else, his early work seems influenced by Blavatsky as well as Crowley – and I know there are people here who know much more about both than I do, so perhaps his work has some resonance with other posters here.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby Heith » Thu Feb 11, 2016 1:49 pm

I admit that I am not very familiar with his work or life, even if his name is known to me and some of my friends are fans of his work. His style isn't something which instantly draws my attention; but in a somewhat similar, erotic drawing style which studies human figures, I much prefer Egon Schiele and find him to be more interesting. Perhaps what alienates me from Spare's work is that I find his way of drawing to be harsh or hard, somehow cold- his lines lack a certain sense of sensitivity which I am personally attracted to.

Another alienator probably is this connection to western occultism which I find to be less and less appealing or interesting the older I get, as it always seems somehow rigid to me, lacking in a genuine ecstasy which seems to be often replaced with crude sexual satisfaction that adopts pornographic forms. While I've nothing against pornography per se, I find it to be extremely uninventive and disinteresting. But perhaps this is because I've simply seen too much of it.

But, like said, I know very little of AOS.
Jiva wrote: Still, even though he wanted to avoid being linked to anyone else, his early work seems influenced by Blavatsky as well as Crowley – and I know there are people here who know much more about both than I do, so perhaps his work has some resonance with other posters here.
It's a rather odd idea for an artist to try and be a lone island, because they owe everything they know and can express to their experiences and learning in life. Every artist has the ability to observe and to absorb and to translate from therein; without this, there is no artist. Obviously, everyone must come up with their own expression after a certain point in technical (and perhaps ideological) development, but I doubt there is a single artist on this planet that was not influenced by someone else or in some ways, continued a tradition someone has started before them.

Of course, if an artist says they don't want to be around people this I can understand perfectly, but it's a little bit different thing.
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby Jiva » Fri Feb 19, 2016 1:13 am

Actually, one of the reasons I return to Austin Osman Spare is because he tried to be so disconnected from the things that influenced him – and he surely had influences. Most authors have some sort of overt – or at least, identifiable – lineage, either in influences (Blavatsky, Jung etc.) or the characters they use (Zarathustra etc.) to make a point. I basically find this very difficult with the books by Spare that I’ve read. So, even if the various characters and the overall tone of The Focus of Life resembles Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in some ways, the context is totally different as the characters are invented rather than an invocation of a historical/mythological figure.

Some of Spare’s art actually does resonates with me, but mostly on a political or sociological level. In cases like these I think warmness of the sepia colour of the paper (in The Focus of Life anyway) contrasts with the rather bold ways in which controversial subjects are just presented, as if he’s trying to shock people into a response. I’m not sure if this is intentional though as most weren’t originally printed because they would’ve been too explicit; therefore I’m not sure if the sepia colour is due to ageing/neglect. I’m also not sure which parts of the text they were intended to align with, or even if they were at all (they could just be ‘bonus material’).
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby Kenazis » Sat Feb 20, 2016 5:01 pm

Years back when I started to read "occult stuff", A.O.S. was of course one of those writers who's name became familiar. Crowley and Spare was the two that I saw the most famous western occultists. Writing of both of them are very hard to understand because of their complex and poetic style (and for one who is not born an lived in english speaking country). Crowley was bit more understandable than Spare, so that was one reason why Crowley's texts was becoming more interesting. Also the Spare's mentioned attitude to be extremely individual and "rootless" was a bit turn off for me because I wanted to learn "universal" occult laws and not subjective visions, how great they be. Spare for me was first names along Crowley (from occult authors) and I have had his books for years, but for mentioned reasons, I haven't read or study Spare's philosophy almost at all.
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby obnoxion » Fri Mar 11, 2016 10:54 pm

I was much into Kenneth Grant in the 90's, and that is where I got to know of AOS. I once owned Images and Oracles & Zos Speaks. I really enjoyed his Sermon to the Hypocrites. On the whole, I saw AOS as a sort of Freudian Mysticist, especially his visual output. But I found in Spare a sort of bleak modernism -something that is quite hard to describe, but resembling a disturbingly unromantic mixture of animalism and mechanics - that puts me off of Dali too. Very powerful stuff, but not my cup of tea.
One day of Brahma has 14 Indras; his life has 54 000 Indras. One day of Vishnu is the lifetime of Brahma. The lifetime of Vishnu is one day of Shiva.
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby Heith » Sat Mar 12, 2016 12:15 pm

obnoxion wrote:But I found in Spare a sort of bleak modernism -something that is quite hard to describe, but resembling a disturbingly unromantic mixture of animalism and mechanics - that puts me off of Dali too. Very powerful stuff, but not my cup of tea.
I think I know what you mean. This is the reason why I don't like Giger either- where the mechanic nightmare is of course even more present.
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby obnoxion » Sat Mar 12, 2016 1:17 pm

Yes, I find it quite impossible to relate to Giger's vision in general. Much, much harder than to Dali or Spare. But there are exceptions. I loved his work in the Alien movies, and I enjoy the piece that Celtic Frost used as an album cover. But over all Giger just leaves me cold, like looking at a wallpaper with over-dominating patterns.

While on the topic of wallpapers, I cannot resist mentioning the work of William Morris. When looking at his wallpapers, it feels like the wall has a living soul. Yet even his richest patterns are not disturbing, but manage to convay a particular feeling of serenity.
One day of Brahma has 14 Indras; his life has 54 000 Indras. One day of Vishnu is the lifetime of Brahma. The lifetime of Vishnu is one day of Shiva.
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby Jiva » Mon Apr 25, 2016 9:25 pm

Actually, it occurs to me that reading some of William Blake’s mythology in works such as Milton and Jerusalem might help me understand Spare a bit better. I assume Spare would have been familiar with these; at least superficially there does seem to be a link (the four Zoas, frequent mentions of sexuality etc.). I’ve never really read them in any detail before because they’re absurdly complicated and so I’ve always focussed more on Blake’s more ‘conventional’ works.

I also should probably have remembered this when starting the ‘Tradition’ thread :P.
'Oh Krishna, restless and overpowering, this mind is overwhelmingly strong; I think we might as easily gain control over the wind as over this.'
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby obnoxion » Sun Jul 03, 2016 5:13 pm

I would be very interested about possible parallels between Blake and Spare.

One common thing is that they are both relatively modern writers.
One day of Brahma has 14 Indras; his life has 54 000 Indras. One day of Vishnu is the lifetime of Brahma. The lifetime of Vishnu is one day of Shiva.
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Re: Austin Osman Spare

Postby obnoxion » Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:44 pm

I am reading a book called "Myth, Literature and the Unconscious". This book is a collaboration of many writers, and it is edited by Leon Burnett, Sanja Bahun and Roderick Main.

One of the contributors, Jason Whittaker in his "The divine image: remaking Blake's myths", discusses the similarities between Blake and Spare.

I would recommend the book for anyone interested in myths, literature and depth psychology. One of the conttibutors is Roderick Main, whose book on Jungian synchronicity has been recommended by fra Nefastos on this forum.
One day of Brahma has 14 Indras; his life has 54 000 Indras. One day of Vishnu is the lifetime of Brahma. The lifetime of Vishnu is one day of Shiva.

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