Kenneth Grant, 1924–2011

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Kenneth Grant by Austin Spare (c. 1951).

Kenneth Grant, writer and occultist, died last month but the event was only announced this week. He’ll be remembered for the nine fascinating occult treatises he wrote from 1972 to 2002, and for continuing the work of Aleister Crowley as head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a position which became fraught in later years as various occult factions disputed his authority. Having collected occult books for much of the 1980s I find his name calls out from the shelves more than many other writers; as well as authoring his own works he edited all the major Crowley texts with Crowley’s executor John Symonds, presenting them in authoritative editions for a new readership.

Grant proved a very loyal champion of people he admired, significantly so in the case of Austin Osman Spare whose work he collected, exhibited and republished from the 1950s on. It was Grant’s position as one of the many advisors for Man, Myth & Magic in 1970 which resulted in the part-work encyclopedia using one of Spare’s stunning drawings as the cover picture for its first issue. That effort alone gave Spare an audience far beyond anything he received during his lifetime, and Grant ensured the magazine featured Spare’s work in subsequent issues. Grant’s occult works made liberal use of unique illustrations by his wife, Steffi Grant, Austin Spare and others. The books were singular enough even without their pages of curious artwork, a beguiling and sometimes incoherent blend of western occult tradition, tantric sex magick and hints of cosmic horror which were nevertheless always well-written, annotated and crammed with technical detail. Alan Moore in 2002 examined the experience of an immersion in Grant’s mythos with a wonderful review he called “Beyond our Ken“. He notes there the influence of HP Lovecraft, another of the visionary figures who Grant championed throughout his life.

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In Spaces Between from The Great Old Ones (1999).

And speaking of Lovecraft, I’ve often wondered whether Kenneth Grant ever saw a copy of my Haunter of the Dark collection. For the opening of the Great Old Ones Kabbalah sequence which Alan Moore and I created for the book I added an extra piece of art entitled In Spaces Between, a reference to Coil via an epigraph from Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time (1980) which I borrowed for the facing page:

For there are Thrones under ground
And the Monarchs upon them
Reign over Space and Beyond

Invoke Them in Darkness, Outside
The Circles of Time

In Silence, in Sleep, in Conjurations
Of Chaos, the Deep will respond…

Coil aficionados will recognise those words as the origin of some lines from Titan Arch (1991):

There are Thrones under ground
And Monarchs upon them
They walk serene
In spaces between

Grant followed his epigraph with another quote, from Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.

In addition to Alan Moore’s Grant review, Fulgur have a detailed Kenneth Grant bibliography on their pages. They were also the publishers in 1998 of Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare by Kenneth and Steffi Grant, a memoir and celebration of Spare’s work which revealed this trio of remote astral voyagers to be human beings after all. The book is currently out of print but it’s essential for anyone interested in Austin Spare or, for that matter, Mr and Mrs Grant.

Previously on { feuilleton }
New Austin Spare grimoires
Austin Spare absinthe
Aleister Crowley on vinyl
Austin Spare’s Behind the Veil
Austin Osman Spare

Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult

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After last week’s post about Wilfried Sätty‘s illustrated Poe, I thought I’d follow it up with this 1970 interview from Man, Myth & Magic, a part-work publication which built weekly into a seven-volume “illustrated encyclopedia of the occult”. In the back of each issue there was a two-page feature, Frontiers of Belief, usually featuring more topical material, and issue 36 had Sätty as its subject. The interview captures him just after he’d been building his reputation as one of San Francisco’s psychedelic poster artists and just before the book collections of his collage work started to appear. The description of his working methods inevitably plays up the occult associations but helps to give a little insight into the artist. The first two pictures here are from the published article to which I added a couple of the album covers he produced in the 1970s. There’s also a poster for an exhibition with friend and fellow artist David Singer whose lettering adorned many of Sätty’s posters.

A note about Sätty’s name: he was known as Wilfried Podriech when he came to America but changed his name to Sätty thereafter. This surname is often reproduced without an umlaut over the “a” which I regard as an error. When Jay Babcock, Richard Pleuger and I visited David Singer to discuss Sätty’s work (and see some of Singer’s own) we were informed that Sätty’s adopted name was intended to be reminiscent of the Egyptian Pharaohonic name Seti. The umlaut over the “a” gives the pronunciation setty; without it would be satty.

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ARTIST OF THE OCCULT by Robert W. Neubert

Alchemy can be a state of being according to Sätty, a German-born artist who now lives in San Francisco; and he believes that this concept can be extended to art. In his attempts to plumb the depths of the subconscious he makes use of his collection of occult works, including a 17th century alchemical text and a book of healing and magic published in 1648.

Blue and orange flames flicker from an ancient urn and throw dancing shadows about a dimly-lit subterranean chamber in San Francisco, California. Old, dark-hued tapestries hang from the walls and low ceiling, and occult art objects are crammed into every corner. Baroque harpsichord music filters through the incense-scented air.

Descending a wooden ladder into the nearly black chamber is a tall, lanky man with flowing brown hair, a dark blue Western-styled shirt, and grey flared slacks. He carries under his arm a mystical-looking montage he has recently created and run off on a lithograph press.

The montage is in poster form, and it is a haunting collection of Renaissance and medieval themes, incredible in its intensity, colour and creativity.

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Sätty photographed for Man, Myth & Magic (1970).

The artist is Sätty, a German-born montage-maker with a dream—a dream of plumbing the depths of the subconscious by utilizing alchemy and mysticism in his work.

Alchemy is essential to his creativity, he says. But the 31-year-old artist’s definition of alchemy has a broader meaning than the classic textbook definition of transmuting base metals into gold. He is one of the first non-commercial poster makers, and his work far transcends the psychedelic art used to advertise San Francisco rock and roll dances.

“Alchemy can be a state of being,” he says. “There is such a thing as visual or intellectual or artistic alchemy. The undeveloped mind may be considered akin to lead, the fully-realized mind as gold. And the same is true of art. Much of contemporary art is lead.”

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Owen Wood’s Zodiac

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Yesterday’s zodiacal illustrations reminded me of this grubby item (depicting the twelve houses of the zodiac and four elements) which I took the trouble to scan since there’s no other example of it on the web. (Click for a larger version.) The artist, Owen Wood, was a highly-regarded illustrator commissioned to produce a poster in 1969 for the landmark magazine Man, Myth & Magic which was serialised weekly in the UK the following year. MMM had a few other giveaways in their early issues but Wood’s poster was by far the best piece. I thought I might have another copy somewhere but it didn’t turn up in a cursory search; if I find it I’ll replace this one. Wood’s very fine and intricate line-drawing deserves better appraisal than this dishevelled item which suffered from being pinned in too many smoke-filled rooms over the years. This obituary of the artist has details of his career.

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Fire (detail).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Palladini’s Zodiac
Austin Osman Spare

The Great God Pan

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Pan teaching Daphnis to play the panpipes; Roman copy of a Greek original from the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE by Heliodoros.

“The worship of Pan never has died out,” said Mortimer. “Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn.”

So says a character in The Music on the Hill, one of the slightly more serious stories from Saki’s The Chronicles of Clovis (1911). Saki’s Pan is a youthful spirit closer to a faun than the goatish creature of legend. But being a gay writer whose tales regularly feature naked young men (surprisingly so, given the time they were written) I’m sure Saki would have appreciated the Roman statue above. There’s nothing chaste about this Pan with his “token erect of thorny thigh” as Aleister Crowley put it in his lascivious 1929 Hymn to Pan, a poem which caused a scandal when read aloud at his funeral some years later. The Roman statue was for a long while an exhibit in the restricted collection of the Naples National Archaeological Museum where all the more scurrilous and priapic artefacts unearthed at Pompeii were kept safely away from women, children and the great unwashed. These are now on public display and include the notorious statue of a goat being penetrated by a satyr.

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Austin Osman Spare

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of one of my favourite artists, Austin Osman Spare.

Like many people in the 1970s, I was introduced to the work of Austin Spare by Man, Myth and Magic, a seven volume “illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural” published weekly in 120 112 parts by Purnell. My mother was a Dennis Wheatley reader so we had a couple of occult paperbacks in the house, among them one of William Seabrook‘s accounts of voodoo in Haiti and a copy of Richard Cavendish’s wonderful magical primer, The Black Arts, (later retitled The Magical Arts). Cavendish had been chosen as editor of Man, Myth and Magic and included occultist and writer Kenneth Grant on his editorial staff, a decision that gave the book’s producers access to Grant’s collection of Spare pictures. In a rather bold move, they launched Man, Myth and Magic in 1970 with a detail of a Spare drawing on the cover, a work often referred to as The Elemental although the authoritative Spare collection, Zos Speaks has it titled as The Vampires are Coming. It’s a shame that AOS didn’t live for a few more years to see this; after labouring in poverty and obscurity for most of his life he would have found his work flooding Britain, with this first issue on sale all over the country and the cover picture being pasted on billboards and sold as posters. It’s possible there were even television adverts for the book (although I don’t recall any), since there usually were for expensive part works like this.

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