"This is a vitality that comes from the street"

"Spare Places" is a Psychogeographical film by The Bones Go Last's friend, Jamie Gregory. Made in 2006, "Spare Places" takes us to where Spare lived and breathed, exploring the history of those areas and in doing so offering glimpses into possible inspirations for Spare's life and works. The film highlights the creativity, diversity and ever changing face of of South London. Layers of fascinating history shudder behind grey buildings as Jamie's jerky digital lense probes for traces of Austin.
Jamie was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the film.....

What first got you interested in Austin Osman Spare?
I first came across Austin Spare in my teens but did not understand what on earth he was about; however in 2001 I began reading and experimenting with Chaos magic and it was there that I came across his work and his philosophy of magic and mysticism. Probably like many who were into chaos magic it was the stripping away of extraneous belief surrounding magic, yet without removing the mystique which provided a big attraction. In the end I became more interested in Spare, his art and written work than in ‘results magic’. He is therefore the one I return to more often than not.
How much of Spare's surroundings influenced his work?
Difficult to say what influenced which aspects of his work, he was a cockney born and bred with an outlook on life formed by the difficulties of his physical and material surroundings. Recently I have been reading a book picked up from the Museum of London called ‘People of the Abyss’ by Jack London. This is a fascinating piece of investigative journalism by the American writer who went undercover in the East End of London in 1901. It is harrowing reading, the grinding poverty and sheer hardship of life for many. Of course this did give birth to a rise in radical politics but there is a strong sense of stoicism among the people he interviewed. Life becomes stripped down to bare essentials like getting food, having a place to sleep and of course forgetting about your problems by drinking beer – lots of it! It goes without saying that what we remember Spare for is his rich internal life, the exact location of this is anybody’s guess?
Which of the geographical locations in the film "Spare Places" were most significant in forming his Art?
He was born right by Smithfields Market the huge cattle and meat market in East Central London. Animals really do pervade the atmosphere there in flesh and form, take a look around and you will see plenty of representations of them. AOS’ love of animals is well known, at his funeral a collection was made for the RSPCA his favourite charity. He was a lover of cats and shared his home with many of them. His famous riposte to Hitler “If you are superman may I be forever animal”. In his art, animal forms and in particular the transformation of humans into animals, the process of atavistic resurgence’ is prominent as subject matter.
Which of the geographical locations in the film "Spare Places" were most significant in forming his Magical beliefs?
His magical and mystical beliefs were more influenced by Plato and Lao Tzu rather than by any particular place. However as for the answer above much of his symbolism which appears in his art, which is not separate from his magic, comes from what he saw everyday – animals, the austere and lined faces of those around him, the sheer energy which still imbues London, all these things infect all his work.
Did you find any interesting psychogeographical coincidences?
His father, Philip Newton, moved the family to Kennington when Austin was a boy he got his first job here designing stained glass windows. Just by Kennington Park and standing over the now subterranean river Effra is St. Mark’s church (one of the four evangelists who is commonly depicted as a lion). St Mark is patron saint. of stained glass makers. Much of his life was spent in Southwark, whose boundaries are no longer what they were. The area around Borough High St. was redound for its ‘brothels and bear pits’ which is why the Rose and Globe theatres were based here. It was outside the city and thus not subject to the laws and regulations of the city of London. It was the shadow or subconscious pit of London wherein all desire can find its recensive art form. I think this sums up Austin Spare’s obsessions quite nicely!
Which areas do you think have changed most radically since Spare lived in them?
London is ever changing! Much of east and south London would be unrecognizable outwardly to Spare if he were to come back today. The last world war and demolition of slum housing has seen it all off. There are pockets by and large and when you come across them suddenly they have the power to transport you for a time. In the film I made with Neil Dineen – An interview with Austin Spare; we asked him, via the oracle, how important spirit of place was to his work. He replied “Falsehood and all sham conceits, are the reflected memory of the de-related and forgotten event resurging, re-exhibiting for validation; for whatever you pretend, holds a misplaced Truth.” I take this to mean that even a mis –‘place’d truth is a reflected memory of a forgotten event. This is really the essence of psychogeography – that is, whatever you build cannot escape the ever-present influence of the spirit of place because it exists in the heart (perhaps Spare would say subconscious) of the beholder and nowhere else. Memory plays an essential role in Austin Spare’s work I think, because of this.
Do you have any particular locations for a Spare fan to visit? Which place do you feel evokes Spare the best?
Watch the film, get an A-Z of London and get out and walk around his London you can’t fail to see and hear him if you look hard enough!
Which one of Spare's pubs is your favourite?
I quite like the Goat Tavern on Stafford Street just off Piccadilly, its nice and quiet on a Saturday afternoon and the landlord doesn’t mind if you if you contact the dead as long as it doesn’t disturb the other punters.