Lincoln Townley knows that cities have the power to intoxicate and destroy. The British painter spent the better part of his thirties running strip clubs in London’s Soho neighborhood, and he’s got the cocaine and alcohol addictions to prove it.
So after a conversation with an actor friend who’d just returned from Los Angeles with a fresh batch of shattered dreams, Townley was moved and felt the need to capture the moment. “He was fried, he’d had enough, and I wanted to paint it.”
Townley’s LA Collection, coming to Art Angel on May 4-6, is his answer to that need. Specifically, the collection is Townley’s exploration of the unique brand of madness Los Angeles anoints on its hopeful residents. “Hollywood is hardcore. I feel it when I arrive; the energy is overtaking.”
When Townley was nine years old, his affair with painting began innocently in his grandfather’s spare bedroom in North London on weekends when Townley’s mother had to work. Townley’s grandfather treated painting as a sacred act, not letting Townley do anything but draw faces on strips of canvas for the first year in the studio.
Though it was early in his life, Townley believes his grandfather to be the strongest influence on his painting style, graduating Townley from his little strips to painting full canvases by the age of ten. “He would get me to stretch the canvas and prime the canvas and said, ‘Paint whatever comes into your head. Don’t make pencil marks on the canvas; just think of your life for inspiration and paint.”
Townley continued painting from that time, but admits to a decline during his teenage years when, “going out, causing trouble, and getting involved with girls” took over his life. In his twenties, he picked back up, continuing to practice his grandfather’s advice on painting from life. But if any of these paintings saw the light of day, it was only in the homes of his mother or his friends. A majority of them were painted over or trashed.
Townley’s painting continued like this, but his life changed. During his time managing the Soho strip clubs, his appetite for booze, drugs, and women became unending. His painting reflected that. “I would spend many hours in the ‘madness,’ painting my demons.” His demons, simplified, boil down to a concept Townley calls ‘The Hunger’, meaning “the hunger in all men to consume everything.”
After years of “running around Soho being consumed,” Townley forced himself to see something he had previously thought impossible: Townley had had enough. In 2011, he sobered up and, shifting the focus of his creative hunger, began work on a memoir about his time in Soho. It was his literary agent who, during a meeting at Townley’s home, suggested he display his work. The first show, sharing a title with Townley’s memoir, “The Hunger,” sold out over a weekend.
Since then, Townley has focused on portraiture, painting such subjects as Charlie Sheen, David Bowie, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, and Keanu Reeves, But each of his pieces have shared one common thru line: “man’s need to consume and forget the consequences.” The LA Collection is no exception. His favorite piece from the collection, titled “Consumption,” is an explosion of oils on black, a face that would be virtually unrecognizable without the whites of its teeth and only one eye. The thick, unctuous colors tear ridges and rivulets into the anonymous face, creating the look that Townley describes as, “I came to L.A. to follow a dream and all I got was consumed by my own greed.”
Though the collection is specifically about Los Angeles, Townley hints that city is a representative microcosm of humanity as a whole. Describing “Consumption,” he says, “It’s the nature of mankind. We are brainwashed by celebrity and the perfect this and the best of that. It all ends in tears.”