Adventures in Limbo-Two Unpublished Sketchbooks


drawn while spotting by

Austin Osman Spare



On May 10th, 1941, during the height of the London Blitz, Austin Osman Spare's London Flat was obliterated by a bomb. It was feared he might not regain the use of his right hand at all. He was unable to paint or draw for nearly three years-thus a double irony in his choice of titles for the later of the two sketchbooks, Adventures in Limbo. Having lived and breathed draftsmanship for over 45 years to lose the use of his hands, and having watched the Second World War decimate his childhood haunts, he must truly have felt himself to be in some sort of Limbo. The two notebooks at hand may well document his first painstaking attempts at artistic expression after his devastating injuries.

These notebooks are not, in my opinion, representative of Spare's best work; they are for the most part, minor automatic works executed with the faltering hand of a convalescent, not the assured strokes of the Master we are accustomed to. Nonetheless, these two notebooks offer a unique insight into Spare's soul during a poorly documented time in his artistic career. He was spending much of his time as a firewatch and V-2 spotter during these last desperate years of the war, living in inconceivable poverty-he claimed that during five months of 1946 he subsisted on nine shillings-which even given inflation, was precious little!

It is interesting to me that there is not one drawing of the devastation that was being visited upon Spare's hometown, nor indeed any graphic reference to the War at all; were it not for the dates at the bottom of the sketches, one would never guess that they were produced during one of the greatest firefights in history. Perhaps Zos escaped the misery of the war through the consolations of the familiars whom he claimed were never far from him-I have little doubt he often requested their assistance during these trying times.

The provenance of these sketchbooks might be of interest to some and is indicative of the unfortunate state of the art "market". I received them in photocopied form from Caliph Hymenaeus Beta. As far as anyone knows, these notebooks were "chopped" to sell as individual prints several years ago. I am pleased to be able to re-assemble them, if only in the noosphere-and implore collectors and sellers alike not to destroy notebooks to make a little extra profit on a sale.

This is the first time as a Spare archivist that I have had to make editorial decisions regarding the work I am displaying. Line art is always difficult to scan at a polite resolution for the Web; because these are at least second-generation photocopies, my job was made harder yet. The drawings were executed on drawing paper; therefore the copies had a great deal of "noise" on them-for the most part, I have scanned them as I got them, but in a couple of cases, most dramatically in sketch 1-23 (Satyrgos), I felt obliged to clean up a little bit more. It was difficult to decide how much detail to sacrifice for the sake of load speed, hopefully my compromise proves equitable for you.

Several of the pages in A Book of Satyrs are absolutely ghastly quality; in the interest of completeness, I chose to include them regardless. If anyone has any ideas of how to clean them up, I'm open to suggestions. The pages skip from 24 to 26; it would be interesting to find the missing page...

Your feedback is encouraged, as are scans, slides and photocopies of any of AOS' work not yet included here.

Again thanks to Hymenaeus Beta for his kind gift-I hope you enjoy it!