A British artist who made his name painting Hollywood royalty is launching his latest show, about “people who take risks”, in Venice.
“Seven years ago, I was floating around these streets trying to pull clients into a strip club,” says Lincoln Townley. We’re in a members’ club in Soho. The 46-year-old artist and author is dressed in black against a black-painted wall, talking a mile a minute. He will tell me he has rewritten the rules of selling art and become a multimillionaire. I will ask him if he is a psychopath. He’ll say it’s not the first time he’s been asked.
Townley, who is married to the former Coronation Street star Denise Welch and stepfather to The 1975’s Matt Healy, is best known for his photorealist portraits of Hollywood stars, and has been described by Michael Caine as “the next Andy Warhol”. This year, he will be showing 20 works independently at the Venice Biennale.
Townley is not, however, your typical artist. He wrote a lurid, sometimes vicious, memoir, The Hunger (2014), about his descent into cocaine and alcohol addiction while working as marketing manager for Peter Stringfellow in the Noughties. Sex and violence loom large: smashing barstools over people’s heads; the young woman he left tied to his bed and forgot about until the police rang; Townley waking up after a drunken night of passion to find himself sharing a bed in a care home.
In person, he’s warm, almost cuddly, big-shouldered in a cardigan, bald, with fair facial hair. The salesman he used to be is always visible. He often uses his thumb and forefinger to shape a point as though he is painting in air in front of your face. Townley is committed to finding a new way to sell himself as an artist, outside of the traditional gallery system, where the gallerist does the selling, nurtures collectors, takes a large percentage of the sales price. Townley wants to do all that himself. The Artnet online price database lists one of his 2019 works selling for £260,000. Townley tells me he has sold another recent work privately for just over £1m.