Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lovecraftian Thing A Day No.28: Lovecraft and Spare

I have to thank Michael Chislett, writer of Machenesque strange stories and Clark Ashton Smith aficionado, (and, as I understand it, occasional wanderer through the haunted terrains of New Cross) who, a few years ago, pointed me in the direction of the subject of today’s post.

In a letter from Smith to Lovecraft from sometime between February and March 1934, Smith reveals that Lovecraft was aware of the work of occult artist Austin Osman Spare. For those unfamiliar with Spare, he inhabits a key position in the Lovecraftian 'Nightside’ occultism of Kenneth Grant (who in turn has played a central role in popularising occult interpretations of Lovecraft’s work). Apparently Grant also introduced Spare to Lovecraft’s writings, supposedly leading Spare to produce a couple of paintings inspired by Lovecraft (detailed in Kenneth and Steffi Grant’s Zos Speaks!, in which reproductions of said paintings appear).

The following quotation from the letter in question indicates that Lovecraft’s knowledge of Spare came from a magazine or newspaper article:

     'Your mixed assortment of clippings went back with the books. Among these, I was especially
     taken with the drawings of the London artist, Spare. The man certainly must have had a vision of
     paganry and demonry! His drawings remind me of Machen’s “The Great God Pan.” He’d
     certainly be an ideal illustrator for that story, and also for “The White People.” There is grand
     literary material in those ruins.’

So it appears that the clipping Lovecraft sent Smith contained samples of Spare’s work; if the statement regarding ‘ruins’ also pertains to this, it offers a tantalising hint as to the identity of the image or images in question. An intriguing little literary and artistic mystery, I'm sure you’ll agree. A cursory review of missives from the same period in the other volumes of Lovecraft’s letters I possess seem not to include any other mention of Spare. In any case, the above quotation can be found on page 254 of The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith which, of course, is today’s Lovecraftian Thing A Day. You’re welcome.

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