“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” – Aristotle
If you are anything like me, when you enter a gallery you can find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer variety of art there to visually digest. This definitely wasn’t the case when I walked into a gallery showcasing works by British artist Lincoln Townley. My eye was instantly drawn to his creations, something about the mixture of color, and paint captured my attention. With my curiosity peeked, it was a stroke of good fortune to be able to meet the artist himself at the exhibit. I can honestly say he satisfied my curiosity and made the madness held within his art look inviting. I hope you enjoy this journey into the experiences behind an artist’s inspiration.
Lincoln Townley, Into The Madness
Black Chalk – Let’s get this started. You were just labeled as the ‘Next Andy Warhol’ by British actor, Sir Michael Caine. What’s the story behind that?
Lincoln Townley – I take that as a compliment as it was from Sir Michael Caine. I thought well… I had just delivered his portrait to him. He started to show me a couple of photographs of him and Andy. His favorite was of him holding one of the iconic soup can paintings. He said it was a big change at the time, a big change in the art world. He was looking at the commerciality of art, fame and fortune – all those things that interested him. I think the expression of it in regards to me being the ‘Next Andy Warhol’ in my opinion has to do with my work. The commercial side which is my ‘Icons’ series. That is looking at celebrity and everything attached to it. It is looking at the person, the actual celebrity themselves. I have these lines going across the front of my paintings. It is about the barrier between the viewer and the actual subject.
I said this Al Pacino, I will drop another name for you. When I painted Al Pacino. I did it when he was in Mayfair, London. He said to me “Just explain the painting to me. I love it, but I want to know what are these lines?” I said “When I meet you, I meet you as Al Pacino. I am lucky enough to be here having dinner with you. But when someone is projected on to you, when they want to know about you. They see you as someone like Tony Montana from Scarface or they see you as The Godfather. Or any of the roles you have played. So in effect that is how they portray you. They project onto you from what they have seen from you creatively.”
Black Chalk – They don’t see them as they are. They see them as they want them to be.
Lincoln Townley – Exactly! You don’t know these people. Because unless you are a friend or family. If you aren’t around them all the time, you won’t know what they are truly about. So what you do is, you see them as the character. That is why I put the barrier, these lines across people. It is about the truth of celebrity. Yes, it is his image, or her image but it only goes as far as what you can see. What you feel? I don’t think it goes that far.
Black Chalk – What is your philosophy of art?
Lincoln Townley – My philosophy of art is that… Only in the last five years have I painted professionally. I learned how to paint from my Grandfather from the age of 8 to 13. Then girls came around, everything else came around and I didn’t want to paint anymore. But I always painted sporadically through out my life in my 20s and 30s. Now I am 43. When I was 38 that was when I started painted professionally. That was when I brought out my book. It is a book about my time in the madness of Soho. I used to run strip clubs.
Black Chalk – So you know Madame Jojo’s?
Lincoln Towny – Absolutely! It is around the corner from the strip clubs I used to run. I used to run Peter Stringfellow’s strip clubs. Angels on Water Street and all that.
Black Chalk – I had the pleasure on my first trip to London, to be taken to Madame Jojo’s and… Let’s say get pleasantly tossed.
Lincoln Townley – You know I work on the ‘Saving Soho’ campaign? I love Soho, but I had to move out of there because four years ago I gave up drinking and drugs. I am four years sober.
Black Chalk – Congrats on that! That is big.
Lincoln Townley – I know it is big. My philosophy on art is about looking at expressing, but not getting too deep in regards to the way I want people to see my work. My work is on a commercial level, I think that is why Michael Caine said that to me. He knows some of my background, he knows how I market myself, cause I had galleries saying ‘No, they didn’t want my work. They wanted to know where I was trained, was at I trained at Goldsmiths.’ But that is the whole point, I have no training. They just kept saying “We don’t want to know, we don’t want to know.”
It took me a year, I did my own show, sold all 15 pieces myself. Sold my book, called “The Hunger” which is based on a collection of paintings I did called the same. It was all launched from there. Now in the last four years I am all over the world. I just toured Saint Petersburg in Russia. I opened in Beverly Hills at Art Angel. They had a print of my Bowie and the original Bowie sold for 250,000 pounds. It is incredible. I got a friend of mine who sent me a clip of the Lazarus video.
Bowie has always been a big inspiration to me. I have always been a fan of Bowie. I saw him in the bandages, and buttons for eyes and thought ‘Right, I am going to capture that image.’ I kept running this image around in my mind. This short little clip I got from my mate, who said “Look at this.” I painted it in my garage. I don’t have a studio, I have a garage.
So I paint in my garage with one strip light. I painted the Bowie, gave it to my gallery in Mayfair. They loved it. Instantly it went into the window and started a bidding war. Amazing!
Black Chalk – How poetic! Especially that image from Lazarus by Bowie. So speaking to that darkness, they say the mark of a true artist is one whom has experience ever facet of life. Having lived in Soho and done a bit of the deeds… Tell me how that has translated into your art?
Lincoln Townley – Well, I was a horrific womanizer when I was working in strip clubs. You are bound to get some female attention in that environment. As a very red blooded heterosexual male, I thought to myself ‘I will take in all onboard’. It does express itself. I have two sides to my art. One is my icons, which I paint. I have painted truly amazing people. People that when I get down to talking about the work, like I did with you, they really see where I am coming from about the way that people seem to approach them. It is about the barriers there.
Then I have my other work, that really paints from the subconscious. It looks at all my experiences, all the madness I have been through. It has more to do with man’s desire to consume. I felt that I wanted everything. I wanted all the drink, all the drugs and all the women. That is what my book is about. It was about that I wanted to be in the best flat, the best car and I wanted to be surrounded by all these things. But in the end as I found out, they don’t mean anything. What ends up happening is that what you consume, ends up consuming you. That is what I paint about.
I launched a collection called Hollywood. These are all originals, it is about men’s expressions of screaming, the anger, of wanting everything in life. They are really interesting pieces.
Black Chalk – They are literally about your exploration of Man’s desire for these status symbols.
Lincoln Townley – Men want everything. They want all the women, they want everything around them.
Black Chalk – Which is true on a primal level.
Lincoln Townley – Which is true. That is what men want. That is one of my fascinations about men. They take so much, they don’t know when to stop.
Black Chalk – That is the beauty of Man. There is an endless hunger…
Lincoln Townley – These pieces are all figurative, they are about Hollywood’s darker side.
Black Chalk – It is like you have taken an abstract and embodied it with your own personal hunger.
Lincoln Townley – Yes, it is that sort of thing… I totally agree.
Black Chalk – The texture of the piece translates into the emotion.
Lincoln Townley – Yes, It is about the aggression. I lived with 3 gays once, I shared a townhouse with them. I am still really good friends with them. One of them used to say to me “I love it when you bring the girls around.” There would be this group fascination with the way these girls would project onto me because I ran the club. Their fascination was with how come I got all these girls coming around there, because I was just so promiscuous. They had their part of the house and I had mine, but by 2 am we were all together. It was madness.
Black Chalk – It is an ‘obsession.’ An endless fascination of the dynamics that go on between people.
Lincoln Townley – I met my wife, who is an actress in the UK. We had a year of what we call the ‘Madness.’ Then four years ago I said to her, “We have something here. Let’s make a got of it.” So the result is that four years ago, we both went dry. We both anchor each other and it has gone on from there.
Black Chalk – I have a lot of friends who have gone ‘dry’ yet work in the nightclub space. They work in that space of madness. What was your shift in reality? What was the lesson you learned?
Lincoln Townley – Yes. One of the things that fascinated me the most is, my desire to want everything for me now! I think at the time I was only using a very space percentage of my brain, to be honest with you. I was indulging myself.
Black Chalk – You were in a phase, a cloud.
Lincoln Townley – Yes, it was very cloudy. The point is that once I unleashed what my true potential is, which is why I see sobriety as being so powerful. I wanted to express that to other people. It has been a lesson to me about giving back. It has given me the power to see what I want beyond myself. What that has done, is allow me to paint more about the obsessions of man. Because that is what I am so intrigued about. Why we want to consume everything. I think we are brainwashed and I think every medium out there…
Black Chalk – Is driven to make you consume?
Lincoln Townley – Driven to make you consume! To make you want everything. It brainwashes you. That is what it does. All the mediums out there, they do that. I think when you are sober, you see through it. When you aren’t you don’t and you get taken in.
Black Chalk – As an artist, you explore experiences and paint them. You create art. You always want someone to get something out of it. What is the most powerful reaction you have heard of to your art?
Lincoln Townley – The thing is that a lot of people have powerful experiences with my art, what I call my ‘Madness’ work. Because they see it is real. One example is, I opened in Mayfair last year. A guy came up to me and said “I understand you painted this. Can you tell me about it?” I said “Yes, I can. Can you see yourself init?” He replied “Sorry?” I just repeated myself “Can you see yourself in it?” He said “I don’t get what you are saying.” Then he get a bit aggressive with me. I said “I was just watching you earlier and I was thinking ‘I could see you gravitating towards this because…’ I am four years sober. I was completely crazy. I was on the gear and everything. It was all very mad.” He said to me “Right… You are four years sober.” I replied “Yeah. But this is what I paint about. I paint about being in that time.” I asked him again “Can you see yourself in it?” He said “Weirdly enough I can…” It is really strange about my art. The way it allows people to interact with it. He has since become my biggest collector and when we met he was going to punch me. It is that moment when I start to explain this is what we are like, we devour.
Black Chalk – That is why it is so powerful, you have captured and channeled an archetype. It is like a subconscious magnet, they are drawn to it because they see an echo of themselves in it.
Lincoln Townley – I know, it is crazy.
Black Chalk – What is the one thing you want people to get out seeing your art?
Lincoln Townley – Be careful what you wish for. A lot of my work is based around just that feeling of wanting so much more and it can end being the worse thing you ever got yourself involved in. I think what is around you – the love – your friends, your family is really important. I find that is one of the things that my art reflects in me. Even though the darkness of my heart needs to be explained. I think the explanation is be aware of it, because it can up on you and bite you.
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