Spare things


Cthulhu Cultus: The Sun is Sick (no date) by Austin Osman Spare.

I’ve been telling people about this drawing for years but I’ve not posted it here before. Spare produced this piece after Kenneth Grant gave him some of HP Lovecraft’s stories to read. I’ve never seen it dated but it’s probably from the mid-50s when Kenneth and Steffi Grant were corresponding with Spare and commissioning new artworks. What’s notable for me is that this is probably the first Lovecraft-derived drawing that wasn’t either a magazine or book illustration, or something done for one of the horror fanzines.


The Call of Cthulhu (1987) by John Coulthart.

Lovecraft aficionados have never seemed aware of Spare’s drawing since Lovecraft studies tended until very recently to remain fixed on popular media and the often parochial world of genre fandom. When I came to draw the swamp scene for The Call of Cthulhu in 1987 I borrowed the faces from Spare’s pillar for the column in the centre of the picture.


Bulldog Breed.

While we’re on the subject, and in the spirit of showing how all the obsessions here connect in one way or another, Phil Baker’s excellent biography of Austin Spare notes a surprising reference to the artist that predates Man, Myth and Magic via the psychedelic music scene. Bulldog Breed were a short-lived London group, one of many being promoted by the Deram label in the late 1960s. The group’s one-and-only album, Made In England, was released in 1969. The cover art is dreadful but the final song is a number entitled Austin Osmanspare [sic], a paean to the artist that turns AOS into a typical character from British psychedelia: an eccentric, oddly named, Victorian type with a sinister and mysterious glamour. According to Baker one of the band members had an aunt who knew Spare. It’s not a bad song, and the choice of magus gave them an edge over the Beatles who went for the more obvious Aleister Crowley. “They said he was before his time…”

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft
The Occult Explosion
Murmur Become Ceaseless and Myriad
Kenneth Grant, 1924–2011
New Austin Spare grimoires
Austin Spare absinthe
Austin Spare’s Behind the Veil
Austin Osman Spare

9 thoughts on “Spare things”

  1. Aficionados aware NOW! Where is this image reprinted and/or is the original art viewable?

  2. Joe: I’ve got two books featuring the drawing, both of them are now expensive items: Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare (1975), and Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare (1998), both by Kenneth Grant. The latter has the colour version which is also a superior reproduction.

    There may be other examples elsewhere but I think this was part of Grant’s personal collection of Spare works so it’s mostly likely to be in his own books.

  3. I’m a big fan of AOS and hadn’t seen that Cthulhu picture – it’s great and it’s a shame he didn’t do a series of them. I first became aware of him in the 80’s when one of his drawings was used for the cover of ‘A History of Secret Societies’ by Akron Daraul for a few of its ongoing reprints (bought during a conspiracy theory frenzy after reading ‘Illuminatus!’ for the first time). I saw quite a comprehensive exhibition of his work at a museum in Southwark about five years back and they (naturally) looked even better in their full size. It’s a pity that there isn’t a decent book of his art available that doesn’t cost the life of your firstborn – a job for Savoy perhaps? I don’t know if you’ve come across an outsider artist called Von Stropp; his art has a similarly visionary aspect to it and, much like Spare he displays excellent draughtmanship.
    As for The Bulldog Breed, by coincidence that track is my favourite on the album but then I’m a complete sucker for Leslie’d vocals

  4. I’ve got a first edition of Daraul’s book (originally titled Secret Societies) from Kenneth Grant’s publisher, Muller. I didn’t see the Southwark exhibition but I did get to see a showing of Spare drawings in the Atlantis bookshop in 2006. I’ve also been privileged to see Alan Moore’s collection which includes a large pastel drawing and signed editions of The Golden Hind, Spare’s art magazine.

    Savoy doesn’t have the resources to do a decent Spare edition although such a book would undoubtedly sell. I agree that someone should do a decent and affordable monograph. Good as it is that Fulgur and co. keep producing lavish editions, Spare’s reputation remains buried when the books quickly go out of print.

    I’m familiar with Von Stropp’s work, saw a large piece in an Outsider Art show at the Whitechapel Gallery years ago. I’m not sure why he gets labelled “Outsider” since he’s technically a lot more accomplished than many “fine” artists (as are many illustrators for that matter). The art world maintains a prejudice that you’re not a proper artist if you haven’t travelled through the academy first.

  5. Yeah, but it’s still essentially about academy approval when the terms describe an inside and outside. If you’re in a hospital you evidently don’t know what you’re doing but we’ll still indulge you, poor thing. Same with people like Facteur Cheval who couldn’t articulate their creative urge in the approved manner so get treated as lesser beings.

    I have a long-standing beef about this so you’ll have to forgive me, but I seldom waste an opportunity to note that equivalent terms for Outsider Artist, and that insulting epithet “self-taught”, don’t exist in other media. The Beatles were “self-taught” but you’ll never see them thus described. Spare suffered this in a different sense by withdrawing completely from the art world, another bad move where those who write the histories are concerned. I’ve noted before Stephen Calloway’s disapproving remarks about Spare getting involved with “spiritualism” which meant that in Calloway’s eyes he threw away his career.

  6. For future reference, and if anyone is interested in the details: Kenneth Grant mentions in Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare giving Spare a copy of The Haunter of the Dark to read. This would probably have been the edition published by Gollancz in 1951, a collection that includes The Call of Cthulhu.

    However, Grant also mentions Spare having “illustrated” Lovecraft before he read any of Lovecraft’s fiction. This may explain why the drawing above (if it’s this to which Grant is referring) has two titles. Matters aren’t helped by lack of further explanation. Grant may well have gone into further detail on the subject but I only have a few of his books.

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