Artist Bradley Theodore spent his teenage years rubbing shoulders with the cream of New York’s creative scene, then in 2013 he painted a street mural of fashion icons Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld that changed everything. Now with celebrities from Adele to Bryan Cranston buying his art, he is widely known as the A-list’s favourite painter. His latest exhibition, The Coronation, showing at Mayfair’s Maddox Gallery, is made up of vivid, colourful reworkings of historical figures and moments, drawing attention to tribalism and the chaos and corruption of modern civilisation. Brummell spoke to Theodore to find out more…
Going back to where it all started, could you describe the New York scene you were a part of in your teens, and some of the famous characters you were running into back then?
It was funny because the creative scene in NY back in the day was one giant party. It was like Instagram and Facebook at the same time. Everyone was being introduced to each other and it was a very personal way to get to know each other. I used to hang out with everyone including Obey, Kaws and so many other brilliant people, there were honestly too many to name.
You went off the radar for a year in 2012 to paint and develop your style, what changes did you undergo artistically during this time?
I focused on quality and patience. I tried to infuse deeper meaning into the paintings based on my life experience and history. Every artist has to look back at his life and leave messages inside his work, so I took all the travelling, galleries, museums and culture and embedded it into my body of work. I had to break the system apart and put it back together.
Tell us about painting the mural of Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld and how it all blew up from there.
That was a painting of destiny you know… I was attempting to paint Karl and Anna walked by. I happened to see both of them, they were a part of my life and realised how these two belonged in my life and naturally belong together. I have always been very popular with business owners and I chose a wall that it would fit best, the minute it went up it went viral. New York was a very dark and tough city and the colour popped and people were thirsty for it.
Some major celebrities have bought your work. Do you enjoy the celebrity element? It must help with raising your profile, but does it ever get in the way?
I think for me it’s a part of living in New York, you can hang out with Adrian Grenier and then be with Donna Karan. I don’t need them to buy my work, but they are in my circumference and want to. It’s what happens when you live in a big city. Some people I have met were on the come up and after years have become very successful.
Who would you love to paint, but haven’t yet and why?
I think I want to paint a Mandela piece. I haven’t done one of him… I want to paint something that documents the struggle of people.
How do you feel when people compare your work to that of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s?
I think people are entitled to their opinion. I know people who were personal friends of Basquiat and they think that our work is quite different. The thing that connects the works is that they are both raw and honest. I don’t mind either way.
Who influences you most artistically?
De Kooning, Monet and probably early subway artists in NY and I like to think there is a little Da Vinci in it as well… so combine all of these and you’ll get a painting of mine.
You must get offers for commissions all the time, do you have to say no to a lot of things?
Some. Earlier on I did some pieces on paper that felt odd. I don’t think my work can be put into everything… some things won’t match. I stay out of that political BS – I got offered to do political leaders, I even got offered $100,000 to paint Trump… but that’s not my thing.
Your new exhibition of oil paintings, The Coronation, depicting significant and culturally historic moments, is a new direction for you. What was the inspiration behind it?
The inspiration for this collection comes from when you get to the top of a mountain and you realise how many more there are around them. It feels like it’s my first crown and I have yet to earn another. Also painting in oil is my attempt to climb my mountain.
What are the key themes and messages of The Coronation? What do you want people to take away from it?
It just represents iconic individuals who had to endure great sacrifice to achieve their place in history. I hope that people see that we all have a destiny and a purpose, and we need to follow it even if it ends with getting our head chopped off, hence Marie Antoinette.
You travelled around the world for a year for this project. Were there any moments that had a profound affect on your creative process?
Seeing [Leonardo da Vinci’s] The Last Supper was absolutely incredible – to be in that space and see the size and details. Even leaving the gift shop, someone recognised me and asked me for a photo – the whole experience was crazy. It gave me the energy to keep on pushing, sometimes I just want to give up but it showed me that I needed to create.
What are you working on next?
The next project is a trip to China to learn a Tibetan painting technique. Later in the year, I am going to Kenya to paint with the Maasai tribe, I look forward to seeing how these journeys will influence my new work so you’ll have to stay tuned.
The Coronation will be at Maddox Gallery, 1-21 October 2018, 9 Maddox Street London W1S 2QE; maddoxgallery.com