‘The stigma is that it is all about the art and not the money, but I totally disagree,’ declares the most enigmatic character to crash the British art set since that pickled shark. Lincoln Townley may be the soaring success story of the contemporary scene, but it is clear that he is unwilling to compromise on his fevered ambition to make it pay. ‘I really don’t care about the art world hating me, in fact I quite enjoy it to be honest,’ the man dubbed the “New Andy Warhol” by Sir Michael Caine tells Gentleman’s Journal.
I really don’t care about the art world hating me, in fact I quite enjoy it to be honest
‘Making money is part of the art and I want to have control over my own work. If I am going to be exclusive to an agent or a particular art gallery they will have to be exclusive to me. Artists have got to make money to survive in a very creative environment where they have not always controlled the financial side of things. Artists have got to believe in themselves. The hard work is getting the art out there and sold. You can hang as many paintings as you want, but you have to sell them.’
And in that respect the 44-year-old is having a personal renaissance to equal any before. Only six years ago he was marketing manager of a lap-dancing empire and in the grip of full-blown alcoholism. Fast forward a few breathtaking years and he has slain his demons and his subversive, and extremely powerful work, is being pursued on a daily basis by a pack of hollywood A-listers including Charlie Sheen, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke.
His extremely powerful work is being pursued on a daily basis by a pack of hollywood A-listers including Charlie Sheen, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke
They have all been hungry to commission portraits by him in the knowledge that Townley’s troubled past helps him reflect theirs. ‘What is unique about these people is that they have become legends despite having gone through so much in their life,’ he says. ‘They have faced down so many things and they are still around. That’s what gives them the depth of character.’
Self-taught Townley’s ICONS collection brought him close to an a elite band of performers including Caine, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro as word spread about his work on unique, and a times quite startling, prints. He has displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts, Somerset House and the Saatchi Gallery during his remarkable ascent. Many stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio have taken a personal involvement in his work, and had his own image represented with the word “Oscar” stencilled through a face which has adorned movie posters in every country.
It’s helped boost Townley’s profile in both LA and London, while portraits of Prince and David Bowie recently sold last year for £300,000 and £250,000 apiece. ‘My ultimate goal is to sell a £1million picture and I am going to do it next. Anyone can produce art but you have got to be able to sell it. Even mature artists can’t sustain years of not making money.
‘I have been self-promoting heavily and never stood for the huge sales fees charged by agents. If I find a buyer then I keep the sale myself, why should that not be the case?’ It still feels like the start of an astonishing progression which has seem him harness a frenetic, and at times addictive, personality with a truly entrepreneurial spirit. He has been feted by Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan McGregor, all of which has seen his popularity increase within the right – and well-heeled – circles who have the money to buy prints on a whim.
By enlisting his own global network of finders and sellers, he has continued to self-promote, undaunted by previous rejections and the bitter pain they would have caused most fledgling artists. There’s is even a documentary being made called “93 Nos”, named after the number of galleries that turned him away in the early days.
‘I was smirked at,’ he says. ‘But no one can tell me that I haven’t created my own art world, because I have. It’s about focus, drive, not taking no for an answer. I received 93 “Nos” from people who rejected my work out of hand before I got my first breakthrough. It forces you to be entrepreneurial as you cannot simply take no for an answer. Before it was always slightly looked down upon to take that attitude as a creative.’
No one can tell me that I haven’t created my own art world, because I have
‘I am extremely proactive and work closely with clients and collectors. I sell on a first come, first served basis and even go to bed thinking about and marketing campaign or a sales strategy. That way I have buyers lined up. People are interested in what you are doing.’ Townley trawled the depths of the human soul in his previous life, feeding from a continual buffet of drink, drugs and sex.
‘I believe all men have an ability to consume so much that what they consume ends up consuming them.’ Desperately anticipating what the next year holds for him, Townley is determined to expand the boundaries of his rising fame as far and wide as possible.
‘This year I am looking to have exhibitions in Los Angeles, Brisbane, St Petersburg, London and New York. I have a new collection about to open, which will be very graphic and deal with male vices and how we often push ourselves to the brink of destruction.’ Explaining how his creative process takes him around one month to get the print from camera to canvas, Townley reveals that work is under way on another set of icons, this time legendary film directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino.
He has also been commissioned by a wealthy political figure in China to produce a print of Marilyn Monroe – which will again draw comparison with Warhol. He says: ‘There is so much snobbery in art. Lots of people believe that it takes an academic to to point at a gallery wall and declare something to be a piece of art or not. I just don’t believe that’s the way it has to be.’
For more information visit lincolntownley.com