Interview with Bradley Theodore
I have been hanging out with Bradley Theodore’s work for six months now with my regular visits to Core Collective, an exercise space in Kensington. There is this huge mural in the reception/breakfast area of Iris Apfel in front of NewYork skyline. It is absolutely fantastic and his other works cover the walls. So when I was invited to the Petra Stunt foundation fundraiser and met a fabulously forward man who bounded over to compliment me on my dress, I was met with the man himself.
He was auctioning one of his paintings which was a portrait of Marie Antoinette for the charity and we had a great chat and when I asked if I could interview him, he very kindly said yes
We met in a cafe Hampstead, a London village famous for its intellectual, artistic, musical and literary associations deeming it the perfect spot to meet this creative mind.
Melanie Let’s talk about your background, when did you start to paint or draw?
Bradley I was born in Turks and Caicos, grew up in Miami and New York and I went to a specially trained art school. High school was more fine art and it was more of a rounded art education. We’d have a special class that we had two hours of a day, so the average person would have an hour a day of a class and we had two hours of art class, so we dealt with everything from acrylics, oil, ceramics, etching, interior design, product design, just everything. I was about 14 then.
Melanie And did you love it immediately?
Bradley Well, I excelled in it. Then I went to a more commercially art orientated high school, focused on graphic design, advertising, logos, branding and everything that goes with the commercial side of art. There was another school that dealt with fine art but I just didn’t get into it. But after graduating high school I won Scholastics. Scholastics is kind of a book publisher that have a national competition for arts and I won the top ten in the nation out of 51,000 students. I just made a portfolio and then submitted it.
Melanie Does it resemble the work that you make now?
Bradley Well a little bit, I think the work was very clean then and very airbrushed on some of it, it was conceptively more commercial in terms of the way it was done but the work now, I think it’s more spiritual.
Melanie How do you create?
Bradley It’s something that just comes out and it’s funny because I was running with a friend today and he was talking about how when you run you pick up everything, like you run and then you go, ‘let’s just do it for another ten minutes, another five minutes’ and then you start thinking ‘oh, did I do this thing? Did I do that thing’ and then you go back to thinking about your running. So with creating art, it’s the same way because you’re living your life and then you create art and while you’re painting you get lost and you start thinking about everything and then you’re like, ‘shall I keep painting this or should I stop, or should I move on?’ and then you start thinking about Ancient Egypt to Babylonia Empire. Your brain just flows to everywhere and what comes on the page is where your spirit ends. There’s brain, body and your spirit and it’s kind of guiding you. Your brain is thinking about getting through the painting and what you’re doing right now in the moment and the spirit is thinking about combining that, connecting all of your thoughts, your emotions and your physical actions to the painting.
Melanie So when you sell them does it feel like a massive part of you, at that moment, goes?
Bradley Well the first two years that I was painting where people were actually requesting to buy my paintings I refused everyone.
You know, because I’d put it up on my wall and they looked really amazing and each painting was feeding the other painting so all the paintings were this energy would just flow off of those paintings onto new paintings. So it was just really easy to develop my language and conceptual thesis. So I didn’t really want to lose them because then I wouldn’t be able to create more. Eventually, someone requested one, but I just thought and for one year maybe two I’m not going to sell to anyone. I don’t care who you are and then at the end of that I was requested by Alyssa Milano, the actress, and I called up and said, ‘Hey, you still want the painting’ and she said, ‘Oh, my god’ and she had it.
At the time I really didn’t care about the business of art.
Melanie So how were you funding it?
Bradley I sold a couple of paintings to a couple of friends, it wasn’t really concerned by that at the time, I’m still not concerned with money, I never was really that good money-wise, I have never been money hungry. that’s the way some people get obsessed with money and they don’t understand it’s just a tool, you know, and they let that tool rule their life. A guy with too many shovels and he doesn’t have enough picks, he can’t touch his rock. You need money to sustain yourself; you need money to live in this society. In some societies money is nothing. So you have to find the balance, for me, it was trying to create the best art that was the most important thing. Trying to create the most emotionally fulfilling art for myself so that I can you can fulfil others. And so, I felt this was my time for me to be selfish and just paint for me.
Melanie Your work at the moment is your skeletal portraits of people. They’re so powerful and when we were at that event the other day, somebody said, ‘Oh, they’re so morbid’ I loved your answer because we all are walking about with our skeleton within us. That is how we all look underneath whilst we live our lives
Bradley I think that people consider that in today’s’ society any skeleton shape is death but for me its life. It’s the life that was and the life that is so the colours that I do are all focused on the energy. The colours around the skeleton is when your spirit catches and connects it with your body. So the question is always throughout ancient times, where’s the soul? Even today there is a search for the soul. People are trying to experiment with the concept of digitally transferring your soul into a computer. And back in the medieval times the idea was the soul was in the middle of the chest and then it was in the head and then these things would be debunked. So this is something that we’ve always struggled with and even today when someone says, ‘oh, that’s death’ then you’re struggling with your knowledge of our world.
Melanie So who were your influences at the beginning?
Bradley I wasn’t really into contemporary art growing up, I was into Renaissance art. So, we didn’t know how to draw so you had to sketch from different massive books, the Grandmasters in art. I used to copy from Michelangelo sketch book, Da Vinci sketch book, Raphael, that was just something that I always did and there were all these books from school and I would take them home and I would copy, copy, copy and then after that I got into design. I think that helps my composition, in a way I think, because art is design, if you look at any building, most of the early architects were artists. So we can look at Da Vinci figuring out how to build the Cathedral in Florence. These techniques were made by artists and it made architects and artists became focused on architects, but it was just something I’ve always done. And then when I went to college I studied computer graphics which was really graphic design because I studied it in high school and then I went to graphics which was fun because it was something that was kind of new, it was complex and I like to do complex things. If I’m not good at one thing I’ll become really good at another thing, you know, so I wasn’t the best student in the world but then I became really good at digital art and that in detail. Interactive programming, animation…
Melanie Digital art is everywhere. Everybody’s doing it now. Even Hockney.
There’s a whole room at the end of exhibition, where it’s just all work he’s done on an iPad. It’s amazing because you get to see the brushstroke from the very start to the end.
Bradley Well that’s the thing, when I started painting I decided that everyone was doing digital work, I decided to do the opposite and paint. It was just like I didn’t want to do what everyone was doing.
I started focusing on painting in 2013 and then I put my first wall up, but I’ve always been involved in the street art community through travelling. So I would travel and work in different companies in different countries and then I’d hang out with a bunch of street artists and skateboarders. And then in Tokyo, in Japan, it was a little more high end where we were hanging out with the skateboarders who had Ferraris, hanging out with a guy who cuts street art but a hundred-million-dollar company. You’re sitting in a club drinking champagne with him, you know? So it was a little bit different, it was also more connected with fashion and because I had lived in New York and hung out with fashion designers.
Melanie You say you’re quite a shy guy, but I don’t see you as that. I mean, how you came up to me and said hello was interesting that never happens to me.
Bradley I think I had to learn how to get un-shy. Shyness gets you nowhere in New York, you’re pummeled if you’re shy, you’re picked on. In New York there’s no shyness you have to be out there. You have to say what you feel and so that’s what I do, I say what I feel, I do what I feel, I stand by it.
Melanie You’re tall, how tall are you?
Bradley I’m 6′ 2”. I was always tall and that’s why I was kind of shy but if you’re tall in New York you stand out and then all of a sudden….
Melanie You’ve got to back it up?
Bradley Yeah, so people are coming up to you and you can’t not know what to talk about so you better study more and know what you’re talking about. You can’t hang out with people and not know how to communicate in such a way that conveys what needs to be done. You have to really practice and I can say that I practiced, I read a bunch of books, I became a book collector. So I didn’t just wake up and be a happy guy, I studied and developed and we all have to do something to develop. Who’s going to do it but us?
Melanie I first saw your work at Core Collective my spin class place. the walls are covered in your work and your mural of Iris Apfel and the New York skyline absolutely transforms that room, it makes that space which is considerable already, massive. It’s so clever and brilliant. Was it a challenge?
Bradley I think it’s like a play off for any team, you know, it’s a play off. You do things there that you could never do in a regular day. So once you’ve put it up, it has to look good, you have no choice, you have to paint it so it’s kind of like a little bit of a challenge but rise to the occasion.
It was funny, there was no discussion on who to put there and who’s very different to anyone else but Iris Apfel was a great choice and then the city in the background.
Melanie Has she seen it?
Bradley She’s seen the painting that that’s from, she actually wants that painting. She does have one of mine that someone bought her for her birthday.
Melanie Do you need to meet your subject, or do you just go from what their known image is?
Bradley Not necessarily, I get image commissions in terms of, I have some portraits but I think people just give me an idea of what they would like and just like to see what I come up with. And those, actually, are the best pieces. They look really good.
Melanie Your Karl Lagerfeld is just phenomenal and it’s interesting because there are so few people in this world are distinctive for a couple of things. The face doesn’t need to be there to know who it is. You don’t have to be told and there’s so few subjects like your Anna Wintour and her bob is another example.
Bradley That is from the New York street campaign from a high fashion street wear brand, so that campaign has been the streets of New York for ten years. So we’ve seen that everywhere and it’s become ‘that image you see’ and it hasn’t faded away. The Karl, the Anna pieces were all about the concept that these people have been in the industry forever and they’re not going anywhere, even in death. So that spirit wall was lit, they’re transcending.
Melanie I’m trying to relate artists in a way to somebody that maybe writes songs and makes albums, is there any point that you would feel, say for example, if Apple said to you, ‘we need you for our next campaign’ does that go against the grain, selling out as such or do you see it as the bigger picture the idea the more people get to see me?
Bradley I think if you look at history it doesn’t go against the grain, I think a lot of artists, if the company values are not their values, that’s different. You don’t go against your values, there are companies that I won’t work for.
When Michelangelo was hired by the Medici to paint a painting it was like their corporation, he’d know the family. When the Church asked him to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling they’re kind of a corporation, a religious corporation. But now we have individuals and corporations that are separate.
Melanie That’s a fantastic comparison. Inspiration-wise, what moves you? I know you have visited some of our galleries here in London, does looking at other art fuel your art?
Bradley Well I think its people mainly but I also love going to museums and galleries. I went to the National Gallery, I went to the Tate, I love it, through all my years of travelling I’ve always taken the time to walk into a gallery or museum, why not? It’s mainly free, it’s one of the best spiritually lifting things you can do. You are just filled with positive energy.
Melanie Do you buy art? Who do you like?
Bradley Who I like is who I buy. I like de Kooning, I like Ray Smith from New York. I have a Ran Ortner a friend of mine who does these amazing ocean paintings, the one I own is humungous. He actually sold a couple; Roger Waters bought a bunch of his beautiful paintings. I also like a New Yorker named Jerkface, he’s a cool artist, he’s a good friend of mine, he’s really funny but he’s like a monster.
Melanie And how do you feel about the celebrity that your success brings? Has that been a strange transition?
Bradley I think because I’m generally in New York, no one bothers you. I mean people say, ‘word up’ but they don’t really go out of their way to disturb you and New York is such a different world, we’ve got a certain thing, you don’t bother people, that’s the way it is. You treat people with respect.