Austin Osman Spare

A.O.S. was a proto-surrealist or pre-surrealist who worked with similar concepts but always stayed outside of the official movement. He created automatic drawings and paintings well ahead of the writing of the Surrealist Manifesto in 1923.

He was never particularly famous or critically well-received and wound up selling his work out of his apartment instead of through galleries. Recently, his work has found new audiences and new publications are being released at a rate of about 1 per year.

His work breaks down into a few types.

The Sidereal Pieces

The general idea is that he would take a photo of a famous actor/actress, look at it sideways, and paint or draw it with distortions.


Though retaining an element of the esoteric, the portraits tend to make use of his classical training.


Vaguely Allegorical Images

Somewhere between realistic studies and strange esoteric works, these tend to represent relatively common themes of ecstasy and death.

The Esoteric and Strange

Automatic drawings mixed with esoteric symbolism mixed with classical rendering mixed with portraiture mixed with art nouveau line work. These are works that still seem a bit creepy and on-the-fringe, even by today’s standards.

If you enjoyed the blog, I also made a brief video as an overview of Spare’s output (not just including art).