Philip Swarbrick, the South African artist is departing
from his first exhibition at Adonis Art, Dangerous
- a series of oil paintings, which were the culmination of
a journey of self-discovery that began on the beaches of Durban
in the 1960s and ended in the backstreets of London. Swarbrick
incorporated his experience of being gay in apartheid South
Africa and explored the hidden world of hedonism. It was a
world where art had been afraid to tread.
From these paintings of the “urban jungle” Swarbrick
now departs to a more general homoerotic theme but still and
again very strikingly and bravely depicting the young body
and interaction between boys on their own intimate adventures.
Philip Swarbrick has been a policeman, an illustrator and
later the Head of Art History at New College, Swindon. He
gave up this job in order to be able to devote himself fully
to his passion of painting.
- Philip Swarbrick @ Adonis Art
An exhibition of your work is taking place
at Adonis Art London. What can we expect?
Firstly, thank you for
your kind interest in my work. In the forthcoming exhibition
I was hoping to base most of my paintings on ancient Greece
and Rome but when I started painting the complex architectural
settings, I soon realised the task was too immense. I am currently
putting more effort into drawings and sketches, which will
comprise the main body of my artwork.
How would you describe your style?
Detailed depictions of
real or imaginary homo eroticism.
There's a real voyeuristic element to
your paintings and indeed, some of them show guys caught in
the act while others stare directly out at the viewer. Are
you trying to directly involve the audience in the sex and
emotions of the scene?
Your from South Africa and grew up under
apartheid with its anti-gay laws. How did this affect your
work and acceptance of your own sexuality?
Any sexual activity other
than the passing of a penis through a vagina was a First Schedule
Offence and carried a maximum of seven years imprisonment.
I might mention the penis and vagina had to be of the same
hue. Even a wank was classed as sodomy by the Calvinist regime.
Any reference to homosexuality in my work was well off the
menu. As for MY sexuality… I was foxy enough to corrupt
even the most devout Born-Again-Christians without being caught.
The paintings are highly erotic, so what
sort of guys do you prefer to paint?
I like painting muscular,
well-built guys but the skinny twink-type guys also have beautiful
And in real life, what kind of guys do
you go for?
Both of the above!
So, how do you find your models?
Mainly in pubs and clubs.
What is it about the male body rather
than a clothed one that you find so attractive to paint?
Bums, backs and pecs…and
the occasional dick but not too often.
The men in your work are usually dressed
in tight shorts or leather trousers. Are you ever tempted
to depict fully naked men?
This is why I chose to
go for a Greco-Roman theme now. There will be plenty of naked
bodies in my new work.
How does your sexuality influence your
To quote Tom of Finland:
‘If the painting isn’t wankable it’s not
working.’ – or on a more serious note; my work
reflects my manifold sexual idiosyncrasies.
Do you think it’s important for
the gay community to see itself represented in art?
Yes…mind you there
are those outside the gay community who also like a furtive
glance at my work.
Okay, so where do you stand on the whole
‘gay art’ label. Is it a necessary genre of art
or redundant ghettoising of painting in general?
If painting bright pink
plump girls, Renoir ‘ghettoised’ heterosexuality,
the same principal could apply to gay art…but then the
cult of the heroic male in Greco-Roman times had a broad significance.
Whether people in hindsight wish to re-classify this as gay-inspired
or whatever, is of no real consequence.
You've been creating pictures for quite
a while now. How has gay art changed during this time?
I see more of it and I
And finally, what are your plans for the
To produce a few memorable works before I depart