Austin Osman Spare, Efflaration, 1952. Collection of Ossian Brown.

29th September—30th October ’11

Flat Time House
210 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4BW
020 7207 4845

John Latham and Austin Osman Spare, curated by Mark Titchner.
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.

John Latham, Life and Time Strip, 1995. Courtesy the Estate of the artist.

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.

Sample from Austin Osman Spare's 'Alphabet of 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.

John Latham, Soft Skoob, 1964. Courtesy John Latham Estate and Lisson Gallery, London.

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.


John Latham (1921 – 2006), one of the most important British artists of the post-war period, lived at FTHo in Peckham, South East London for over 20 years. The House is now home to the John Latham Foundation and the John Latham Archive, and will be the primary location for a 10-month programme of exhibitions and events exploring the artist’s practice, his theoretical ideas and their continued relevance.

Latham considered the house a ‘living sculpture’, with different rooms taking on the attributes of a living organism. At FTHo, a giant and colourful book-relief sculpture penetrates a large window on the front of the house, known as the Face, into a room called the Mind, in which a permanent installation of works demonstrating Latham’s Time-Base Theory has been maintained. The next room is known as the Brain. Latham described it as the space for ‘rational thought’ and this is where he worked on his theoretical writing and correspondence. The Brain will now be home to the John Latham Archive. The Hand, formerly Latham’s studio, will be the main location for the programme of changing exhibitions and events. The remainder of the house is taken up with what is termed the ‘Body Event’, where eating, sleeping and ‘plumbing’ take place. The name of the house derives from John’s theoretical language, in which ‘Flat Time’ describes the way in which time and all possible events can be represented by the length and width of a flat canvas, demonstrated in works including Time-Base Roller (1972. Tate Collection).

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.

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.



  1. Pingback: URBAN SIGILS | The New MT

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