Austin Osman Spare – Phil Baker

An instant classic, this definitive biography of Spare takes delves into the life and occultism of this legendary esotericist and artist.


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Strange Attractor, 2012. Paperback, 326 pages. New.

The definitive biography of Austin Osman Spare, the London occult artist now experiencing a revival of fame. A controversial enfant terrible of the Edwardian art world, the young Spare was hailed as a genius but he went underground to live in poverty and obscurity. Absorbed in occultism and sorcery, he continued to produce extraordinary art while developing a magical philosophy of pleasure, obsession.

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. Phil Baker’s other books include The Dedalus Book of Absinthe, a biography of Dennis Wheatley, The Devil is a Gentleman, and critical works on Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs. He lives in London, and has lectured at Treadwell’s.


“[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.” Times Literary Supplement

“…an elegant and comprehensive biography… [Baker’s] 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

‘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. Hopefully this book will encourage a reassessment of Spare which is long overdue’ – Phil Hine

‘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