Philip Gray’s passion for art is equalled only by his passion for exploration and discovery. A tranquil day spent painting in his studio is not for him; rather he is a man of action, who wants to interact with the natural world that he portrays. His ‘extreme art’, painted in unexpected and often dangerous locations, has won him a unique reputation as an artist and adventurer, and his exploits have become legendary.


Philip was born with two great passions – art and adventure. He joined the Irish Navy in 1977, but his was no ordinary service: he was a deep-sea diver, seeking out sunken wreckages, unexploded mines and even undiscovered bodies. For 15 years, a day in the office meant living on the edge.

As time passed, Philip began to think about a new challenge. In 1992, he took the unexpected step of leaving the military to pursue his love of painting. While this may sound as if he took a step back from action and adventure, it turned out to be quite the reverse, and he set off on a journey into the unknown.


Whereas many artists hold to the traditional ideals of truth and beauty in art, to Philip the landscape of life and pursuit of perfection has an additional dynamic – drama. He brings movement to his canvas, action into his brushstrokes and vibrancy into life.


Yet these images alone are only half the story – what sets Philip apart is his process. Why simply imagine shark-infested depths from a comfortable studio when you can capture them up close from the depths of the ocean? Why visualise a bird’s-eye view of our world when you can paint it live while freefalling from a thousand feet? To Philip, the drama of the process informs the drama of the image. He has worked in such challenging locations as Everest Base Camp, 60ft beneath the surface of shark-infested waters in the Bahamas, the rainforest of Borneo, Icelandic volcanoes, Mexican underwater caves, the Sahara Desert, during a skydive and, most recently, under Qiandao Lake in China, where he has painted the country’s famous ‘lost’ Lion City.

While his frenetic lifestyle might lead us to believe Phil is always simply looking for the next adventure, Philip is a man of intelligence, warmth and wit, an adrenaline junkie and a softly spoken, measured individual. Philanthropy is central to his life. BBC Children in Need and the Hope Foundation, which benefits the street children of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), are just two of the many charities that have benefited from his support.


The gentler side of Philip’s personality comes across very clearly through the work he paints in Ireland. All travelers must have a place to come back to, and however far he strays he always returns to the waters of home. His reputation as a man of action has led to a sense of high drama in many of his paintings, but in these mesmerizing scenes the drama is replaced by atmosphere, and rather than stand back and admire, the viewer is encouraged to step forwards and inhabit the work themselves.

Philip’s oil paintings and pastels have captivated a generation of art lovers and won him an impressive range of awards, media coverage and celebrity collectors. As his reputation has grown, his original work has become increasingly sought after, and his status as one of the UK’s most collectable artists has now been confirmed. He is not only in demand as an artist but also as a live painting performer and raconteur, and is a frequent guest on board our ships, painting live in front of an enraptured audience. The inspirational nature of Philip’s work transcends all boundaries, a fact that was beautifully illustrated when both Bill Clinton and George W Bush chose his work for the walls of the White House.


For more information, to view Philip’s latest collection, or to discover your new favorite artist, visit our on board art gallery and speak to an art consultant next time you sail.

The Clarendon Fine Art Gallery on board Queen Victoria

Article first published in Cunarder (Summer 2023 edition).

On board with Cunard