“Paintings, like dream, have a life of their own
And I have always very much painted the way I dream”
- Leonor Fini
“The sphinxes of Leonor Fini are sphinxes à la mode, not in terms of how they are dressed but rather through their anxious faces, weary and puffy from troubled sleep; through their thick manes of hair that betray a decidedly romantic and modern soul. They are sphinxes that have just flown in from the Witches’ Sabbath, during which they lingered endlessly contemplating the beautiful bodies of sleeping adolescents in the purple moonlight. The landscape over which the sphinxes swooped is strewn with broken bones, empty shells, fish skeletons, eggshells, pebbles strung together and especially roots and broken branches bleached by the sea that Leonor so rightly adores.” – Mario Praz
Matthew Levi Stevens & Emma Doeve with the Stele of Zos vel Thanatos, by Austin Osman Spare - photo taken by Rob Ansell of Fulgur (Thank You!) @ I:MAGE exhibition of Magical Art, Store Street Gallery, next door to Treadwells (in conjunction with Fulgur/Abraxas.) So good to see such a fine selection of Esoteric & Occult Art – some for the first time! – including Agostino Arrivabene, Ithell Colqhuoun, Cristina Francov, Steffi Grant, Francesco Parisi, David Chaim Smith, Austin Osman Spare, and Others.
Here is a small selection of our photographs of pictures from the exhibition that particularly caught our eye:
. . . .
Mystai II° (2012)
. . . .
Study of Mên-an-Tol (1940)
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De lo Eterno y lo Lúdico (2011)
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. . . .
AUSTIN OSMAN SPARE
There were several other works by AOS on show, including some Automatic Drawings that were so light of touch that even close-up and in person it was hard to make out some of the pencil-work. Sad to say, our attempts to photograph these – either with or without flash – failed dismally, but there was one other work that neither of us had seen before (even in reproduction!) that we did manage to catch something of:
The Proselyte of Asmodeus (1929)
. . . .
(Apologies for the camerawork in places, we’ll just have to say that the various orbs and shadowy presences from unavoidable reflections add to the otherworldly qualities of the images and the event itself!)
As well as the unique opportunity to see Spare’s Stele of Zos – oft reproduced but never previously exhibited, and appearing here for the first time thanks to a combination of the generosity of Steffi Grant and the persistence of Rob Ansell – it was also a rare treat to see a full set of originals of The Carfax Monographs by Kenneth Grant, with Steffi’s remarkable illustrations. Even our photos do not do justice to the vividness of the colours in broad daylight!
It was also a good opportunity to meet up with friends Old & New, including Johan Boomsma of Aeon Sophia Press, Angela Edwards, Clive Harper, Christina Oakley Harrington, Phil Hine, Karolina Kallee & Mariusz Nantur Doering of Zoas Press, Mogg Morgan of Mandrake of Oxford, John Power & Liz Elliot, and Michael Staley of Starfire.
As well as enjoying a chat with Rob Ansell & his wife Rosalind, it was a pleasure to meet with Frankfurt-based alchemist & musician Paul Cowlan, and also catch up with Mr. Savage Pencil, Edwin Pouncey – despite moving in largely overlapping circles in London in the 1980s and having a mutual friend in former music journalist & Crowley aficionado Sandy Robertson, neither of us could recall ever having actually met before!
Coinciding with the end of the exhibition was the launch of the latest ‘Special Issue No. 1’ of the Abraxas Journal from Fulgur: ‘Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art. Select Papers from the University of Cambridge Conference’
For more information, including details of availability of this and previous issues, please see:
For more about the exhibition and the various artists – including biographies & galleries of work – please see I:MAGE on the Fulgur website, where you can also find an online catalogue:
A Dialogue on the Arts & The Art, part 1:
“…So you say that all the time you were at Art College – and all the time before that – you weren’t aware of Austin Osman Spare?”
“Correct. This gap in my creative perspective has been a terrible absence.”
“Why do you think he wasn’t mentioned?”
“I can only think of one explanation: art in our day and certainly during my time at art college is no longer grounded in magic, or if there is magic – such as the tricks of advertising and marketing – it is a cynical, empty magic…”
“I can only reverse that development on a personal level.”
A Dialogue on the Arts & The Art, part 2:
“He ended his life – arguably – too early, living in squalor and virtual destitution.”
“It is terrible, because he had an auspicious start: his prodigious talent was recognized very early on. It is understandable he didn’t want to be a ‘society’ painter portraying the rich or do lucrative commissions. He refused to pander to these tastes. Yet I would say his artistic career went on the slide for different reasons, or maybe just one reason.”
“He had discovered the Occult, and paired with his amazing gift, he became Her servant and slave.”
A Dialogue on the Arts & The Art, part 3:
“Up to the age of maybe fifty, when his health began to fail, he was sexually very active. He was a handsome virile man and he had no problem attracting women.”
“He portrayed them as they had never been seen before. Let’s examine the different ways he engaged with the female form.”
THE NUDE & THE SATYR
“His naked women with whom he most likely had sexual relations – and we’re not talking Mrs. Patterson here; that will come later – were ‘buxom’, natural, and mostly plain. He knew their flesh; still, the art he created from them was out of this world.”
“He could look at them with the eye of a satyr. He revived an ancient mode of being transposed into dark London. We all know what a satyr is: companion to the god Pan or Dionysus. But when the satyr in Austin Spare guided his hand when drawing or painting women – or one particular woman – you see something strange and extraordinary, and often shamelessly sensual and sexual.”
His friend Steffi Grant wrote that his work “was that weird window of wonder and terror of which few have succeeded in raising the blind.”
A Dialogue on the Arts & The Art, part 4:
“Something in him seemed forever watchful, and you can see this in some of the self-portraits, whether their gaze is directed outwards or inwards.”
“And sometimes his ‘looking’ is part of a greater whole, as when he draws himself in astral company, occasionally amounting to a rout.”
“Do bear in mind that the concentrated stare you often find in Spare’s and other artists’ self portraits comes from looking intensely at your self in the mirror. But yes, a watchfulness and a lack of vanity or self-regard, except what serves his Art.”
“It enters a different dimension still when he transports himself into a woman, as when she lifts her eyes, her very form, upwards from an Earth that exerts a very powerful pull. He may give her wings, or at least a depiction of wings to consider. One of his loveliest and most mysterious is a drawing of a woman holding a shiny round object – a mirror? – in her hands. Full breasts are resting on them. A small snake touches her right hand with its snout. The delicate serpent encircles a partly truncated classical statuette. A black outline – object? – hovers near as do wings in the background. The bottom part of the drawing is taken up with Spare’s Alphabet of Desire.”
A Dialogue on the Arts & The Art, part 5:
“This is how Kenneth Grant – in Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare – articulates the conundrum:
‘It is a matter of conjecture and mystification to all who knew him well why he elected to withdraw so completely from the company of the so-called cultured.’
“It was a disguise he felt he needed. You look at some of the imagery and you know he had to live in hiding – at least in part, and it was easier to do so among the dispossessed. Among the ‘so-called cultured’ he did not feel comfortable. Lack of a certain education which might have created awkward situations? Quite possibly. But they in their turn didn’t understand him. But then, who did?
‘Weave a circle round him thrice
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honeydew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise’
It was his own Paradise undoubtedly, one which only he might have elected and enjoyed, but his Art speaks volumes. Ostracized and entranced, he was lost in the hypnotic splendours of his own Xanadu.”
[ ...to be continued... ]
Even though Spring continues to be remarkably unsettled, we turn our thoughts regardless to the coming Summer and the various projects we hope to develop.
Having put the finishing touches to Dreams In The Witch House, Emma‘s illustrations for Nina Antonia‘s forthcoming debut collection of poetry, 13 Knots, and Matthew‘s essay on C. J. Bradbury Robinson and William S. Burroughs for the next issue of Beatdom (likewise Number 13 – unlucky for some?!), we are already planning ahead…
As well as continuing to expand the Catalogue of Second Hand, Rare & Collectible titles we have on offer, we will also begin to branch out into Distribution – at first offering a small selection of titles from our friends & allies, each of whom we feel are a unique voice, offering an original contribution.
And of course, with our own WhollyBooks titles there will be a range of new material made available across the Summer months, including:
- a selection of ‘Burroughs Bulletins’ as part of the overall “London Years” project (starting with our Interview with Graham Masterton)
- a Guide to Occult London, that will accompany an illustrated Talk
- a taster of Riot Boy! Selected Writings of Cabell McLean
- an Introduction to The Magical Art of Emma Doeve
- and Ghost Town London, by Matthew Levi Stevens
…And also an informal History of the association between William S. Burroughs and the “Wreckers of Civilization” themselves, Throbbing Gristle: charting the friendship between WSB and Genesis P-Orridge - also Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson - and how this would give rise to the first album to document the Cut-Up tape experiments, Nothing Here Now But The Recordings; also salvaging of Thee Films in the wake of the death of Antony Balch; and eventually the multi-media, cross-generational celebration that was The Final Academy. Following the “family tree” from TG to Psychic TV (and Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth), then Coil and Thee Majesty, and drawing on personal archive material and correspondence, as well as published articles and interviews…
In addition there will also be one-or-two Other very special collaborative projects, which are currently in discussion…
Details of all of these – and Other – publications will be released in due course.
Please be sure to check back for updates.
Emma & Matthew, WhollyBooks
By the pricking of our thumbs…
‘Dreams In The Witch House’
Compiled & Edited by
Matthew Levi Stevens
A collection of Images & Oracles, with an accompanying Soundtrack, including contributions from: Nina Antonia, Emma Doeve, Florian Ayala Fauna, Paul A. Green, The Plague Doctors, Daniele Santagiuliana, Matthew Levi Stevens, De Straatslijper, & Raoul V.
Will be available as a regular edition chapbook and also as a talismanic, strictly limited edition of 13.
This edition will include, among Other things, a full-colour reproduction of an exquisite corpse created by John Balance (of Coil), Matthew Levi Stevens, & Raoul V @ Threshold House, 1989.
Full details to be confirmed shortly.
Work continues steadily on Riot Boy! Selected Writings of Cabell McLean, with Cabell’s former partner & literary executor Eric K. Lerner continuing to share material from his archive, also memories from their 18 years together. We have been doing what we can to help Eric arrange and collate Cabell’s writings – manuscripts, letters, and journals – and edit a small Selection that will be able to stand as an Introduction to his Life & Work.
In the meantime we continue to hear from people who are interested in Cabell, his friendship with William S. Burroughs, time as part of the Naropa scene – or even that knew him in Boulder or New York.
One correspondent drew our attention to this photo, posted on the Allen Ginsberg Project website and asked us if the young man seated to Bill’s right (captioned merely “student”) might be Cabell?
Check it out here:
But we have to admit we don’t know…
One person who might know is Calliope Nicholas, another former Naropa ‘Wild Child’, who appears as ‘Poppy’ in Cabell’s Playback: My Personal Experience of Chaos Magic with William S. Burroughs, Sr. Her memoir Westward From Indiana includes memorable snapshots of her time in Boulder – “setting up targets for a bunch of gun toting gay guys” with WSB, “sitting in a chair stripped down to my waist” playing poker with Gregory Corso – and later sharing an apartment on New York’s The Bowery with Cabell and the lead-singer of The Stimulators, Patrick Mack, her Summer of ’78 taking in CBGBs, The Chelsea Hotel, and Studio 54.
Probably the single main resource online at present is the tribute to Cabell over at the website for Ashé Journal of Experimental Spirituality - with this portrait by Kirila Faeh:
This is one photo that we do know for sure is of Cabell! Eric tells us that as a rule, Cabell didn’t like having his picture taken, but because he hit it off with Kirila he agreed to have his portrait taken for a gallery show of her work in New York back in 1985…
Speaking of New York, the Ashé website reproduces a story which Cabell had read at a Fire Benefit for St. Mark’s Church in 1983, and was one of the ones originally published by his friend Montana Houston, Down By Dull:
According to Eric, Cabell said that Billy-the-Kid lookalike Montana published more of his work than anybody else, in a range of short-lived literary ‘zines with colourful names like Valium Addict, Heroin Addict, and Dumb Fucker – before disappearing (in true Wild West fashion) South-of-the-Border to Mexico…
Speaking of escape, here is Cabell’s short story, Legend Days Begun, on the website of Huncke-Times:
And to round up for now, here’s a recording of Emma Doeve reading from Legend Days Begun as part of the event FINAL ACADEMY/2012, organised by Joe Ambrose @ The Horse Hospital, Bloomsbury, last October:
With a big Thank You to everybody who has been in touch and shown an interest. Watch this space for further updates in due course.
Three Times Great!
Scribe of the Gods
Lord of Books and Magic
Whose words endure forever!
…Hear me, Thoth-Hermes, benefactor, inventor of potions; be easy to talk to and hear me, just as you have done everything in the form of your Ethiopian dog-faced baboon, the lord of the chthonic daimons. Calm them all and give me strength, form, and let them give me gold and silver and every sustenance which will never fail. Preserve me always, through all eternity, from poisons and deceits, every slander and evil tongues, from every daimonic possession, from every hatred of both gods and men. Let them give me favour and victory and business and prosperity…
These are your Names in the four quarters of Heaven:
LAMPHTHEN OUŌTHI OUASTHEN OUŌTHI OAMENŌTH ENTHOMOUCH