'Southwark does no go to the Royal Academy, but Southwark is, in its own way, interested in art and in a very particular way in the art of the youngest exhibitor at the Royal Aacademy, Mr Austin Osman Spare. For the benefit therefore of the dwellers in his native borough some sixity original sketches by the boy artist are now on view at the Newington Public Library in Walworth Road. Austin Spare hails from the neighbouring Kennington Road, is the son of a retired policeman, and is possessed of a versatile and often very erratic fancy... A weird fantasy runs riot in nearly all the sketches. Monsters of horrible form, decadent shapes and grotesque allegories fill the glass cases'.
The fantasy element developed over the years, with Blakean paintings featured magickal themes.
The exhibition does justice to that side of his work, but also to the later paintings he did of local characters from the pubs, markets and doss houses of South London. Some of this work was actually displayed by Spare in pubs. For a show at the Temple Bar (284-6 Walworth Road) in 1949 he wrote: 'Why a show in a Tavern? My answer: it is democratic and gives a chance (where necessary) to people who normally have little time to visit the more orthodox places which often entail dress, tickets, fees, etc., and my other friends and clients might find it an interesting change.'
Interestingly the exhibition features a painting of Joyce Cary (below). The Irish writer is believed to have partly based the artist character of Gully Jimson in his novel The Horses Mouth (1944) on Spare. As previously established at Transpontine, Cary spent his early childhood in New Cross (Kitto Road) and Nunhead.
(see previous post for more details of where Spare lived in South London; exhibition closes on Sunday 14th November.)