From facilitating lavish parties and lap dances in London’s seedy Soho district to portraying some of the most complex, celebrated and tormented souls in Hollywood, British contemporary artist Lincoln Townley has transformed his life through his art. Known for his ability to capture the turbulent energies of the unconscious mind that push the most creative and successful people to the edge of destruction, Townley has been commissioned to paint many of the world’s biggest stars, exhibiting his work in galleries all over the globe, including the National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts in London and Art Angels in Los Angeles.
You began your career working in the commercial vehicle industry, then you were offered to head up marketing and publicity for London’s infamous gentlemen’s club – Stringfellows. Today, you’re exhibiting your artwork all over the world, including Art Angels in Los Angeles and were commissioned by BAFTA LA to paint six honorees of the 2015 Britannia Awards. That’s a remarkable evolution! Have you always identified as an artist and when did you know this was the path you wanted to pursue?
I have always painted, even in my darkest moments in Soho I would paint horrific images, which I felt helped me with the deep anxiety I would suffer whilst using drink and drugs to such a degree. Then, 5 years ago, the painting took on a life of it’s own when I decided to get sober and take my art to a new level. I never thought it would hit this level at all, but hard work, talent and lots of luck and perseverance is my key to success.
Your book The Hunger chronicles your battle with addition to booze, drugs, women and really an ultra excessive lifestyle working in, as you describe it, the underbelly of London’s Soho neighborhood. What was the moment or instance you realized you needed to make a change?
I wanted to change because I found purpose; purpose in my painting and in my relationship with my wife, Denise. We had what we referred to as our “year of madness” together and I saw that what we had would get lost if we continued to drink and use drugs, so I gave up and three months later she followed. Denise concentrated on getting back to acting as she is an award-winning actress and I focused on my art and began to paint and position my work in shows across London which now continues and stretches across the world, which is incredible.
Did your sobriety influence your transition into the art world?
Absolutely without doubt my sobriety changed my life; I took control for the first time in many years. The art world is extremely hard to get in to and I’m still not “accepted” as a real artist. It’s crazy as, 5 years ago, I hammered on so many doors when I decided to show my work. I visited dozens of galleries and they would even laugh at me when I asked to talk to the gallery manager…but who’s laughing now? I’m constantly being asked to join shows across the world and show my work in galleries – it really is a fairytale story but it’s not been an easy transition. I’m now opening in galleries in San Francisco, New York, Dubai and St Petersburg as well as showing in Mayfair at Maddox Gallery and Art Angel in Beverly Hills.
Your ICONS Collection, a portrait series of iconic figures in the entertainment industry, is a mix of commissioned works as well as celebrities you have chosen as your subjects. What is it about a person, or in some cases their persona, which inspires you to portray them in your work?
It started as a project to paint people I felt had the ICON status (in the world of entertainment) but I wanted to choose famous people who I admired for their vision and determination to succeed in such a chaotic environment. I now have a whole collection of ICONS and it has organically grown into the position that I find famous people asking me to create their image in my style, which I am very honored to do if the face fits!
Of all your portraits, which subject did you relate to or identify with the most?
My meeting with Charlie Sheen when I delivered him his portrait was the most exhilarating experience. He got the vision I had when painting him and connected with the portrait immediately, telling The Independent “I had captured the essence of addiction.” We chatted for ages about the depth of the portrait and the feeling I had whilst painting it as I watched YouTube footage of his expression and feelings. I could really identify with his anger and feeling of being lost in the madness of addiction.
Sheen isn’t the only hard-partying actor on your ICONS roster. You’ve also painted the likes of Mickey Rourke, Nick Nolte and recovering addict-turned-activist Russell Brand. Would you say that your art saved your life?
My painting continues to keep me grounded and focused on producing art, which touches people. My ICONS collection is growing and my choice of ICON is based on the energy and charisma of my subjects. When I explained my methods of painting to BAFTA LA they fully understood my feelings behind the image itself and I feel that’s why they have continued to want to use me for this year’s Britannia Awards and I’m very much looking forward to see who they are honoring.
You’ve donated many of your pieces to help raise funds for the ABR Trust, for which both you and Brand are patrons, and A Sense of Home, an LA-based charity dedicated to creating homes for young people aging out of foster care. How important is it to you to be able to give back to these causes?
I adore both charities and they both have different places in my heart. My patronage at The ABR Trust with Russell is fabulous and I have raised tens of thousands for them and they continue to help and guide people who need help with drink and drug related issues. I will continue to paint portraits to raise awareness and funding whenever I can. Russell plays a huge role in getting the good of the charity out there, through his social media voice. I was introduced to A Sense of Home through Max Kennedy of the Kennedy family in the US. I have not only painted portraits for them but I have rolled up my sleeves and assisted some of the young amazing people they help to create homes for, and hung the odd mirror and even grabbed a paint brush! I think the energy of both these charities is motivating for me to give back and help those less fortunate than myself and I will continue to do so.
Keanu Reeves Portrait by Lincoln Townley
Robert Downey Jr. Portrait by Lincoln Townley