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Welsh painter masters the art of swearing with unique explicit project

31 Jul 2021 4 minute read
The painting that spawned Sweary Tales – Jimmy in Quadrophenia

David Owens

Welsh artist Richard Lewis hasn’t so much created a vanity project as a profanity project.

His ingenious, unique idea of taking great moments of swearing from entertainment history and transforming them into paintings has resulted in a multi-decade leap across the cultural zeitgeist.

Sweary Tales, as it is called, has seen the artist – originally from Cardiff but who now lives in London – build up a collection of paintings, which he ultimately hopes to publish in a book.

Richard, who tongue-in-cheek describes himself as an archeologist of swearing, has created a creative tour-de-force which is wildly entertaining and highly educational.

So if you wanted to see a painting of the first time the F word was said in a movie or w**ker used on the big screen, then you are in luck, the artist’s impressive array of paintings will more than meet your needs.

“The idea for the paintings didn’t start immediately,” he says. “My original idea was to create giant paintings of some of my favourite cinema moments.

“I did a painting from a famous scene in Quadrophenia, when the lead character, mod Jimmy is riding his Lambretta scooter and he collides with a post office van. He screams at the postman ‘Mr Postman f*** off’, which is one of the greatest lines in cinema history.

“At that point it was just a painting of the scene. There was no speech bubble with it.”

Artist and ‘curator of swearing’ Richard Lewis

However, the artwork led him down an expletive laden path.

“I had this thought – which was like one of those pub quiz questions – who was the first person to say the F word in a movie,” he recalls.

“I discovered it was Marianne Faithfull in a 1967 movie directed by Michael Winner called ‘I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname’. She screams it at Oliver Reed.

“Then it got me thinking again, when was the first time someone said w**ker in a film? That was said by Harry H Corbett in a Steptoe and Son movie.

And naturally, as these things surely go, his next quest was to unearth who was responsible for the first C word on screen.

“I found that the first C word was in a Hollywood film from 1970 called ‘The Boys In The Band’,” he informs me.

The first use of the C word in a movie

The Sweary Tales project naturally evolved given the artist’s long held fascination with the subject grew.

“It wasn’t just the historical part of it that I’ve enjoyed,” he says. “I’ve always been fascinated by swearing and the illicit nature of it, especially when it’s done well.”

Growing up on a council estate in Cardiff in the ‘70s and ‘80s, he jokes that he was exposed to swearing from an early age, but that two comedy legends galvanised his explicit love of an expletive.

“I grew up with Derek and Clive as a kid, which was incredibly explicit, especially with Peter Cook and that nice Dudley Moore off the telly saying the most obscene words,” he says.

“And I just love a really good use of swearing. So that’s where the project started.”

Sweary Tales book

Many of his paintings are from films, some are from TV, others from famous incidents (and yes that Bill Grundy Sex Pistols’ encounter will be in there) and those that have a certain mythology attached to them, but all have expletives at their heart.

“I’d say it’s historical and educational, but I like to think it’s meant to amuse and educate at the same time,” he says.

“I mean, in one respect it’s quite a niche subject, but then at the same time, everyone I speak to when I tell them I’d like to turn this into a book, they all say I’d buy two copies of that. I think it’s a subject that fascinates people.”

Thankfully with an encyclopaedic knowledge of culture through the decades, Richard has plenty to occupy his time as the Sweary Tales project grows.

“I’ve got like at least another 30 in mind, and I reckon I need to paint another 50 at least for it to work in a book.

“Swearing has always been around and will always be around. It’s handed down through the generations.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I’m not educating the kids now.”

Find out more about Sweary Tales via Richard’s website and Instagram


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Huw Davies
Huw Davies
2 years ago

Harry H. Corbett may have said ‘W**ker’ in Steptoe and Son but I’m pretty sure Sooty whispered it in Harry Corbett’s ear first!

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