Austin Osman Spare, revised edition
The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist
344 pp., 6 x 8 in, 12 color illus., 50 b&w illus.
- Published: May 2, 2023
A revised edition of Phil Baker's critically lauded biography of artist and occultist, Austin Osman Spare.
London has harbored many curious characters, but few more curious than the artist and visionary Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956).
A controversial enfant terrible of the Edwardian art world, the young Spare was hailed as a genius and a new Aubrey Beardsley, while George Bernard Shaw reportedly said “Spare's medicine is too strong for the average man.”
But Spare was never made for worldly success and he went underground, falling out of the gallery system to live in poverty and obscurity south of the river. 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.
Today Spare is both forgotten and famous, a cult figure whose modest life has been much mythologized since his death. This groundbreaking biographical study offers wide-ranging insights into Spare's art, mind and world, reconnecting him with the art history that ignored him and exploring his parallel London; a bygone place of pub pianists, wealthy alchemists, and monstrous owls.
This richly readable and illuminating biography takes us deep into the strange inner world that this most enigmatic of artists inhabited, shedding new light while allowing just a few shadowy corners to flourish unspoiled.
Revised, updated, and with a new afterword by the author, this is the definitive edition of Phil Baker's critically lauded Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist.
Phil Baker has established himself as among the very best contemporary biographers… What Baker has accomplished here is little short of marvellous.
Phil Baker's study is a first-rate performance, scrupulously researched, judicious and refreshingly sane… Spare comes to seem a strangely attractive figure: talented, stoical, randy, cantankerous, gentle and a magnificent English eccentric.
The Literary Review
Baker is a wonderful writer, careful, intelligent and dry. He also knows his London, and the Spare that emerges in his portrayal is very much an avatar of that unique and ancient town: humble Cockney beginnings, the bright years as a smoldering wunderkind, and then a long plunge into poverty, obscurity, and a deep weirdness…
Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis and Nomad Codes
[Told with] zest and insight... Ever determined to break down the barriers between reality and fantasy, Spare has finally achieved it—not by elaborate psychic exercises, but through biography.
Matthew Sturgis, Times Literary Supplement
I cannot recommend Austin Osman Spare too highly. Phil Baker has done a wonderful job of bringing the complexities and contradictions of Spare's life to the fore, and in making the London of Spare's time come to life vividly and richly.
Phil Hine, enfolding.org
Phil Baker has written an elegant and comprehensive biography, and his deep sympathy for his subject is nicely balanced by his scepticism towards some of Spare's sources of esoteric thought. There is a wealth of detail here … A stunning tribute to an unjustly neglected artist
Noel Rooney, Fortean Times
Phil Baker's book is excellent; it's the one many Spare enthusiasts such as I had been waiting for.
John Coulthart, London Society Journal
So many of Spare's works look like sketches for a masterwork rather than the finished article. Perhaps the finished article was Spare's life itself, an extraordnary carnival of strange chacters and incidents, some of them semi-mythical. It is as good as a novel.
Reggie Oliver, Wormwood