Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Art of Philip Swarbrick

Philip Swarbrick
Philip Swarbrick writes...
"I was born in South Africa in 1956. My first interest in painting the male nude was when I saw The Agony and the Ecstacy featuring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. During my pre-teens I frolicked on Rocket Hut Beach a half mile from where I lived. The beach was inhabited by mainly male sunbathers who sprawled out in the sanctuary of the sand dunes. As I reached my early teens, the male form I admired and featured in my drawings fused with my progressively emerging (and apparent) homosexuality. My drawings disturbed my family and peers so my venture into this sort of art was abruptly curtailed.
As I grew older, my daytime and nocturnal activities on Rocket Hut Beach increased despite draconian laws forbidding homosexual contact. I was conscripted into the South Africa Police and I teamed up with like-minded officers. We regularly raided the numerous cruising areas around Durban, 'apprehending' those 'soliciting with intent'. As I became more politically aware, enforcing apartheid became impossible and I left the country.
During this period I neglected the homosexual content of my work and concentratedon anti-apartheid themes. My first one-man exhibition was entitled Witness to Apartheid and Post Modern Blues. This was held in London at the Balhamgallery in 1987. The exhibition nearly sold out and received favourable comments from The Voice and Time Out. Thereafter I had a painting shortlisted for the BP National Portrait Award.
I went on to work as an illustrator for the AD Comics Group and eventually became an art lecturer and Head of Art History at New College Swindon. My peers in Malmesbury where I had an 18th century cottage criticised me for neglecting my painting talent in favour of education and security (which consumed all my attention and energy). It was after a furious outburst by Peter Harris MBE that I determined to change my ways. Now eighty, he demanded that I 'stop farting about' and concentrate on painting - for better or worse. Somehow many years had passed when I had avoided painting the male nude. Inwardly I was seething with anger that I had been so diverted from my original quest and passion. Through his publisher, I met Michael Leonard. I greatly admired his male art. His positive but realistic encouragement spurred me on. I took voluntary redundancy so that I could concentrate my energies on painting rather than teaching. I swapped my house and lectureship for a bedsit and a street-sweeping job. An important factor is this was a quote from Michael Leonard: 'I would like to be remembered for a few memorable paintings'.
My raison d'etre is now to make up for almost 30 years of neglecting my craft. I am now a student of my own craft. While I was a lecturer in Art History I was a diligent student of the subject, but it was divorced from life. Now life is at the centre of my current study. My intention is to draw eroticism from the experience of the urban environment. The thrust of 20th century art concentrated on the female form. My aim is now to redress the balance. As with the ancient Greeks and Renaissance artists, we should celebrate our masculinity. I want the opportunity to create alluring, challenging and evocative imagery using the male form as a medium of carnal and intellectual expression. In an historical context, I believe the acceptance of homosexuality is a good measure of democratic tolerance over religious and cultural zeal. Rather that hide my flame under a bushell, my intention is to set the whole damn thing ablaze - after all I have waited almost 30 years to do so. This exhibition is not a result of calculated design but I hope a coming together of like minds enhancing our growing community..."
Copy and images used with permission from Adonis Art of London.