The Artists

Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare, The Artists
Portrait of Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare was 17 when his work was featured in the London Royal Academy of Arts' prestigious Summer Exhibition. He was the youngest artist in the exhibition that year, and journalists descended to ordain the latest youth art prodigy. His style was praised as 'unparalleled' by the popular Welsh artist Augustus John, and John Singer Sargent reportedly believed Spare was the greatest draftsman in England. The photograph above is from that year. Spare looks steely, a clenched jaw and carefully angled brow betray no emotion beyond resolute independence. It's an old photo and a bit blurry, but it looks as if Spare's left eye meets the viewer, and his right looks past them, into the far distance. A few months later he quietly dropped out of college and all but disappeared from the public view.

Spare's artistic training continued at South Kensinton's Royal College of Art, where he was a bad student but an excellent draftsman. He skipped class to hang out with the suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and explore occult literature by Cornelius Agrippa, Eliphas Levi, and Madame Blavatsky. Spare mostly ignored the school's curriculum, which focused on rendering and shading, instead developing a startlingly proficient style of elegant linework and fluid forms influenced by illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and the typographer and engraver Charles Ricketts. After leaving school, Spare worked with publishers of obscure and antiquarian books, illustrating Ethel Rolt Wheeler's past lives in her book "Behind the Veil" and Charles Grindrod's murderous monk in the dark novel "The Shadow of the Raggedstone."

While conventional illustration paid Spare's bills, in his off-hours he turned his talents inward, developing and visualizing a deeply personal esoteric philosophy. Spare aimed to eliminate belief, religion, and science in favor of a transcendent, present-tense experience of two-fold truth: the all-feeling universal body which he called Zos, and the all-observing subconscious called Kia. Together, the hand and the eye.


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Reed Enger, "Austin Osman Spare," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 02, 2022; last modified November 06, 2022,

Austin Osman Spare was an English artist born on December 30, 1886. Osman Spare contributed to the Symbolist and Esoteric movements and died on May 15, 1956.

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