29 September–30 October 2011

John Latham and Austin Osman Spare, curated by Mark Titchner

Austin Osman Spare Efflaration (1952) Collection of Ossian Brown. (MURMUR BECOME CEASELESS AND MYRIAD 0)

Austin Osman Spare Efflaration (1952) Collection of Ossian Brown.

Flat Time House presents a unique exhibition of work by two artistic visionaries of South London whose art embodied their attempts to connect with the universal. Latham lived and worked at 210 Bellenden Road in Peckham for 23 years until his death in 2006. Spare grew up in Kennington and later lived around the Walworth Road and Brixton. He survived a bomb that destroyed his home and studio during the Blitz and died later, at home in Brixton, in 1956. Both artists dedicated themselves to lifelong idiosyncratic philosophical investigations; one through the occult, the other through science.

Spare developed a personal magic which connects the bodily self and conscious mind - the 'Zos' - through the unconscious to a more complex state called the 'Kia', which describes something like the whole, or the "fertile void behind existence" (Phil Baker, Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist). Latham's Flat Time Theory sets out a similar relationship between the personal and the universal by allowing the simultaneous existence of more than one 'type of time': the time of momentary, lived experience (the 'specious present') coexisting with the void-like 'omnipresent atemporal score' of the universe. Unlike Spare's system of magic, Latham's theory was offered up beyond the individual, as a salve for all imaginable societal and intellectual differences.

Spare and Latham were also striving, through very different means, to unite language and action; to create a language which would directly correspond to or embody that which it was attempting to describe. Spare used sigils: distillations of words or phrases into graphic ciphers which he employed in his personal magic. He developed a process whereby the sigil (representing a will or desire) bypassed the conscious mind through a practice akin to meditation. Once 'forgotten' or lost to the conscious mind, the sigil would germinate in the fertile ground of the unconscious and, at some future time, make manifest the initial desire. 

For Latham, the very structure and form of language was divisive and inadequate, obscuring the actions and events it attempted to describe. Much of his work is an attempt to convey his ideas through a non-verbal idiom. He developed a strong visual language that included the spray gun, canvas, glass, wires and pipes, and books. In his titling, and later in his theoretical writings, Latham employed an experimental approach to language; playing with its form by means of wordplay, reversals, and corruptions in order to mold it more closely to the nature of things. The exhibition includes a series of works which Latham made during a placement with the Scottish Office in the mid-1970s, which express ideas about time and perspective through a non-verbal or pre-verbal form. From aerial photography of West Lothian's shale heaps or 'bings' (monumental mounds of industrial waste) Latham identified the form of a female torso in the landscape, with breasts and vagina and with her heart splayed out in the landscape adjacent. He called this 'automatic sculpture' the Niddrie Woman and it became a recurring emblem in his work. The large hanging canvas depicts the Niddrie Woman and surrounding landscape from the ground.


Biographically, the artists have a lot in common: a reticence to engage with the art establishment or the commercial art market; superficial correspondences with the work of their contemporaries but isolation by force of their ideas. The artistic genius of both these artists was, in the main, recognised by their peers, even if the subject of their work was not entirely understood. 

In spite of this, discussion of Spare's practice has largely related to arcana and magic, despite his training in fine art and early mainstream successes. Conversely, Latham's work has been understood primarily in relation to the conceptual art practices of the 1960s and 70s. This exhibition broadens these perspectives, presenting their work in the context of two parallel experimental practices.


To mark the end of the exhibition Murmur become ceaseless and myriad, biographer Phil Baker will present an illustrated talk on Austin Osman Spare; his life, work and how he has been mythologised.

From the Foreword by Alan Moore:

"What Phil Baker has accomplished here is little short of marvellous... a human study that neither confirms nor conclusively denies the extra-human properties attributed to its astounding and ambiguous subject... To my mind Phil Baker has established himself as among the very best contemporary biographers."

Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist by Phil Baker is published by Strange Attractor. Copies signed by the author are available from Flat Time House for £25.


Mark Titchner works in a wide range of media including sculpture, installations, banners, posters, video and performance. He frequently explores the ways in which communication engenders belief and the ways in which our minds can be subtly manipulated. Text commonly features within his work and he draws from a wide range of sources including song lyrics, advertising, utopian statements and political manifestos. Mark Titchner lives and works in London. He is currently exhibiting 'Be True To Your Oblivion' a solo show at the New Art Gallery, Walsall and was recently included in 'Nothing is Forever' at South London Gallery and 'The Dark Monarch' at Tate St. Ives (2010). Titchner was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2006 and has had solo museum shows at the Hellenic American Union (2009), BALTIC, Gateshead (2008 and 2007) and Arnolfini (2006). In 2012 he will have a solo show at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, Greece.


Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) caused a sensation when he exhibited work in the Royal Academy at the age of just 17. He was lauded for his draftsmanship and was compared to Aubrey Beardsley and Durer during his early successes. His relationship with the establishment soured when his esoteric interests and personal magic became the sole subject of his work and self published volumes. However this did draw another audience to his work; artists, writers and others who shared his interests including, for a time, the occultist Aleister Crowley. His home and studio was destroyed by fire during the Blitz in 1941 and it took spare five years to recover from the injuries he sustained. Later in life, Spare found new subjects among his friends and neighbours around the Walworth Road and Brixton and would exhibit work in his own house, selling his work for around five pounds a picture. He died in Brixton in 1956.