John Oliver wants York artist’s painting, offering $1K and $20K donation to local food bank

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It’s not exactly clear how the painting of two anthropomorphic rats locked in an erotic embrace came to the attention of comedian John Oliver.

One thing is certain, whoever owns the painting by York artist Brian Swords — who, according to his website, has a series of such paintings, including several of Alf, Bugs Bunny and Brian the dog from “Family Guy,” among others — could cash in.

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Oliver, on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” showed the painting, titled “Stay Up Late,” which had come up for auction as part of a WITF fundraising art sale in 1992 and sold for $80, and offered its current owner $1,000 for it, sweetening the deal with a $20,000 donation to the owner’s local food bank.

Here’s a clip of the video. (Warning: Contains some bad language.)

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“This is real,” Oliver said on the show. “I want that piece of art hanging behind me on this wall next week.” 

He continued: “This is America where, sure, you can’t get a test for COVID-19, or Purell, or a ventilator, or a sense of empathy from the person in charge. But if you try hard enough … you can get a picture of two nude rats locked in a passionate … embrace hanging on your wall.

“You have to still be able to do that. That is what this country is all about. If we give that up, we’re basically just France. Please. Find the painting and email me.”

We found the painting, kind of. Jackie Sprout, who lives in Mount Wolf, owns a piece of Swords’ artwork, one of the series of paintings of “Alice and Bob,” two rats engaging in behavior that rats typically aren’t known for. She owns a different piece than the one Oliver is seeking.

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She bought it during the WITF art auction, called Gallery 33, in the 1990s. She had seen the painting in person when she and her family visited WITF to preview the artwork to be auctioned during the fund-raiser and remembered liking so she bid on it during the televised auction. 

“I didn’t know how graphic it was until I had it my hands,” Sprout, retired director of a senior center in York County. 

She got in touch with the artist and still has the booklet of his work that he sent to her. The painting itself, titled “Alice and Bob No. 1,” had been through a couple of moves and shows some wear. She planned to get in touch with Oliver to see whether the offer extended to the painting she owns.

Interestingly, she and her husband volunteer at the York County Food Bank. 

If you own the painting, described by Oliver as a “masterwork,” email the show at john@johnoliverwantsyourraterotica.com.

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