With a retrospective at the Saatchi Gallery fast approaching in October, Lincoln Townley is a name that you’ll want to remember. It may initially seem that Townley has had a rapid ascent to notoriety in the art world— his life story demonstrates that this is not the case. Battling with drink and drug addiction up until five years ago, art started out as a creative outlet which allowed Townley to deal with his emotions in a more productive way than losing himself in the streets of Soho in the early morning. And through this practice emerged clear talent.
Showing early pieces from the Hunger Collection alongside more recent works including some from his infamous Icons series, Townley is delighted to be displaying his work on the walls of a gallery he has always deemed so highly respectable. Having been rejected by the establishment numerous times— he estimates a shocking ninety-three— the artist always kept a positive outlook remembering that the next answer could be a “yes.” After so much rejection, Townley took it upon himself to make sure the art world saw him, renting a space at the Riflemaker Gallery in 2014. It was an immediate success, selling out the collection he showed that weekend and establishing a circle of people appreciative of his talent. Townley is not ashamed, in fact, he’s proud to say that his success is a result of “sheer determination and grit” and that this passion reflected in his work is also what buyers see within themselves.
The Icons series continued to build on this idea of drive and determination that Townley believes is within all men. The portrait subjects are prominent figures, those that Townley himself has deemed personal icons. Starting with Russell Brand through their joint affiliation with the Abstinence-Based Recovery Trust, Townley’s portrait of Brand raised $20,000 for the charity. From here, the Icons collection grew as Townley exploited his networking skills relentlessly. No longer deterred by the word “no“, Townley discovered the key to his success was persistence, and, sure enough, offers began to trickle through, and he is now frequently approached by those aspiring to be immortalised on his canvases.
No longer trying to force himself into the art world that did not seem to want him, Townley expertly built one around himself —a world where he is determined to make some key changes. He currently deems the established art world as a “closed shop”, with gallerists and successful artists not prepared or willing to give advice to those struggling. Townley is keen to help artists having trouble to get their work noticed, claiming that social media is the most extensive and unlimited PR tool at anyone’s disposal. His perseverance equals his talent, unfounded and overwhelming, but should not be confused with obnoxiousness. Townley talks to me about how daunting it is to show your own work and how he was initially uncomfortable with having to constantly self-promote. His ambition has not dwindled because of his recent success however; his sights have only been set higher; he wants to have his art shown in all the major art cities across the world.
This rigour and passion is what Townley believes has made the Icons collection so popular, telling me how the subjects of his portraits are always prepared to take it to the edge to reach success. However, the line between self-destruction and success is a fine one, an issue which Townley deals with across his body of work. The intrinsic male need to consume is what he is most interested in, a desire that can be realised in multiple ways. Townley endeavours to explore these notions in his art; the Hunger Collection is a depiction of destruction through over consumption and Icons is a depiction of the success this type of obsessive temperament can bring you.
Townley’s lack of formal training is something to acknowledge. He only received lessons from his grandfather as a child. An engineer and a frustrated painter, his grandfather had failed to get his art shown in any galleries, a struggle that Townley became familiar with when first starting out. Thus, he was insistent upon teaching his grandson artistic discipline, hoping that Townley could go on to greater success. Townley distinctly remembers his grandfather constantly reminding him that an artist should be able to capture the character of a person with only 7 lines, a lesson that has stayed with him and which he continues to utilise. Art originally existed solely as a hobby for Townley—an emotional outlet when battling his alcohol addiction—and he would often stuff canvases under his bed to prevent anybody from seeing them. Townley’s literary agent later suggested that the dark tones of the art worked well alongside his book The Hunger, released by Simon & Schuster in 2014, and encouraged him to pursue art professionally.
Currently focusing predominantly on subjects in the music industry, Townley is careful to select people that have been a true inspiration to him. Paintings of late musicians such as Bowie and Prince now come with more melancholic undertones attached, no longer celebrating these talented musicians but, rather, commemorating them. The vast array of iconic actors painted by Townley include Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Colin Farrell, Jack Nicholson and more. Townley’s most successful portrait has been of Michael Caine; the subject adored it so much that the painting now hangs in the living room of Caine’s home. Caine is rightly mesmerised by Townley’s ability to capture the essence of a person, their soul effortlessly exposed on the canvas. Hailing him as the next Andy Warhol and commissioning a portrait to be done of his wife Shakira, Caine is betting big on Townley’s potential. Townley’s sights are set on continuing his foray into a group of sporting icons, after having been commissioned to paint a selection of Formula 1 stars for Paddock Life Magazine this year.
The Hunger Collection and Hollywood Collection, although abstracted from setting on the canvas, are based in Soho and Los Angeles. In Townley’s experience these two fast-paced bustling environments present many of the same dangers and temptations. To Townley, Soho is an intense environment blending motivation and drive with alcohol and drugs, the latter temptations too often rapidly derailing one’s creativity and potential. Conversely, Los Angeles offers two types of indulgence, a Soho-like life of excess and one of living a clean and healthy lifestyle, harboring the potential for a successful career down several avenues. Townley himself has spent the last half decade diverting his attention from his once destructive life to a productive one, and his need for excess is seen through his sheer drive for his name to be known by anyone and everyone.
A fitting end to the first of many phases of this artist’s career is being graced with a documentary following his ascension over the last five years. Featuring footage from the beginning of his journey and filming up to the Saatchi Gallery show in October, 93 No’s, produced by Chris Branch, will undoubtedly effortlessly expose Townley’s determination and willpower. His passion is unparalleled, and the documentary seeks to, in Townley’s own words, “celebrate the spirit of pushing yourself.”
Lincoln Townley is a name that is mentioned more and more often in the contemporary art world—make sure you are part of the conversation.