Austin Osman Spare
Poor Painter With Cats

KEEPING alive the romantic tradition that painters ought to live in extreme discomfort, somewhere neat the starvation level, is Austin Osman Spare, who has just held an exhibition at London’s Archer Gallery, with over 150 studies in “PsychoPhysiognomy” and, to quote his catalogue, “an admixture of spivs, ghosts, hoboes, layabouts, fiddlers and others.”

Austin Osman Spare, a policeman’s son, once looked like being a fashionable painter. But Mr. Spare decided to paint in London’s Elephant and Castle, choosing as models the ordinary people of Lambeth. He rarely charged more than £5 each for them, but they became collectors’ pieces.

In 1941, fire and high explosive totally obliterated his studio flat, depriving him of his home, his health and his equipment. For three years he struggled to regain the use of his arms and now at last his work is on view again, paintings which he has done in the cramped basement in Brixton where he now lives with eight or nine cats as company. This studio flat is a mass of litter, the artist himself works in an old Army shirt and tattered jacket. He has no bed. But he still’ charges an average of £5 per picture.

Spare’s hobby is the occult. “By turning my head involuntarily” he announces. “I can always see my alter ego, familiars or the gang of elementals that partly constitute my being.”

Leader Magazine, January 3, 1948

In fact he has no bed at all. This is how Austin Osman Spare sleeps at nights, by the side of the dresser with its odd crockery and bottles. Cats get the comfort

There are five in this picture, even more in the room. In fact every stray is welcome, and gets as good a feed of milk as ever he had

Austin Spare occupies a Brixton basement. His studio is six feet square, filled with canvas, easels and assorted litter

It’s hung on a line in the kitchen. Underneath, the cats sleep on a gramophone

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