Who do you paint and create for and do you have a particular audience in mind?
I paint and draw for myself. I paint for my own pleasure and sense of satisfaction. If you paint for other people, to fit the trend or for a gallery you will never be true to yourself and will quickly lose your identity. It is on this basis that I politely refuse private commissions.
What are the main features of your art practice in terms of creating works?
The most obvious feature is that I draw and paint from images typically photographs taken by myself or found in magazines or online. I have both a photographic mind and the ability to create visual mental imagery, you could say I have hyperphantasia, so I can paint or draw in my head and practically visualise a completed work that I will later output in physical form.
In terms of medium I paint in acrylics and draw with oil pastels and oil sticks. I love Italy on so many levels, the use of oil pastels is directly associated with my perceived interpretation of their finish on paper being like the patina of the ancient time worn plastered walls of Italian buildings. My newest works are now adopting a more subtle colour palette, less bright but still very colourful and again, this has been influenced by my time in Italy and the views around me.
It has been said you remain an unknown in the mainstream art world, you do not get reviewed by art critics and are impossible to find, so how do you sell your work and wind up being in demand with global icons?
The people who buy my work are confident, discerning people who value exclusivity, individuality and rarity. They instinctively know what they like, they are not influenced by others. My collaborators are very much the same, they can choose to work with anyone and I find that the greatest compliment.
Impossible to find? I am just a private person with zero interest in trying to sell myself to the mainstream or show-off. I enjoy working quietly and value my direct connection to collectors and they are equally as private and discreet. Most sales are through word of mouth, often introductions from existing collectors.
As I work adjacent to the art world art critics generally have zero interest in me and who listens to critics anyway? However, I have had email conversations with New York magazine's controversial art critic Jerry Saltz and we had some interesting and amicable exchanges.
You created guitars for Ed Sheeran, what impact did that have on your exposure?
The projects for Ed were commercial, he paid the going rate, there was no, "I'm Ed Sheeran, you should be paying me for our association". In this respect, there was never any expectation Ed would then tell the world about my work and that was cool with me.
Personally, in a way, the projects fulfilled a dream because I always wanted to be a touring musician. Seeing my own guitar [Green T] on stage in over 18 countries and being played by arguably the biggest pop star on the planet in front of millions was very pleasing and slightly surreal.
While GQ magazine picked up on the 'Crash x Teddy M' guitar and afforded a full page feature this had zero impact on sales of my work or general exposure. I think Ed Sheeran fans are largely only interested in Ed Sheeran, as are most fans of stars. However, a second GQ feature about my paintings did result in increased sales.
After the Ed Sheeran collaboration you painted with members of the British royal family, the first artist to do so. Yet you do not feature the collaboration on your website?
At the time, I admit I was a little wrapped up in the whole circus of me, a regular guy, finding myself at home with members of the royal family.
The collaboration itself was about creating a painting to raise money for charity and I was blissfully unaware of the sickening connection between the York family and Jeffrey Epstein and remained further in the dark when I later commentated on Princess Eugenie's wedding for SKY News.
When it all came out in the press, I was shocked and from what I knew of the family it was a case of being in disbelief. However, for me the fundamental question was "How could anyone maintain any kind of friendship with someone they knew to be a convicted sex offender?"
The decision was therefore taken to cremate the painting and I no longer consider the work part of my ouevre.
How do you navigate the art market?
I just put my head down and work. I do not play to the galleries or the art world. I do not follow a trend, I create a trend and the collectors and people who choose to purchase and follow my work are the people who matter most to my career.
I find it is better to have a cult following than to be mainstream because your fans are loyal and have a genuine interest, they buy art because they love it and not because other people own a piece or a sales person says it is a 'good investment'. The output of my work is deliberately limited, I manage my releases and my large paintings are extremely scarce so there is no danger of me selling out to please others and my collectors value my exclusivity.
Despite your 13 year career, not one of your works has ever appeared on the secondary market. Why do you think this is?
Simple really, exclusivity and collectors who genuinely love and value my work and want to hold onto it.
The secondary market is more harmful to an artist than it is good. People often talk about auction values forgetting they are talking about a single painting that sold on a particular day. The auction world is also less than transparent, there is a lot of trickery to drive up prices.
An artist I know saw one of his collaborative works sell for £400,000 at auction when you could buy a similar work direct from his studio for £10,000. The auction result halted his studio sales because everyone immediately thought his going rate was in the hundreds of thousands and the number of people or collectors with that kind of disposable income and interest in his work was unsustainable. Years later the same artwork returned to auction and sold for just £40,000, so the artist received a further slap in the face.
Auctions are not an artist's friend.
You have remained independent your entire artistic career, do you deliberately avoid gallery respresentation?
I would not say I deliberately avoid galleries just that I had an experience with a London-based gallery very early on that taught me some valuable lessons. I quickly realised I was the best person to sell my work and I have not looked back.
In 2018, my early work was independently reviewed by a recognised art expert and he identified I had established a primary market without any outside representation. It is this independence, my determination and ambition that appeals to my blue-chip collectors as much as my work.
I believe it is possible to have a mutually agreeable relationship with a blue-chip gallery as long as they understand I do not paint to order, I choose what to release and I do not take advances. I have never been an artist to let other people call the shots when it comes to my work.
Are there any particular artists who have inspired your own career and creativity?
I did not attend art college however, I was painting before I could read or write. At primary school I was a frequent winner of the school art prize and so I think I was born with a natural creativity.
As I have grown, I have observed and absorbed various influences from the worlds of art, music, fashion and design. I am as captivated by a painting by David Hockney, Matisse, Alexander Calder as I am by the curves and contours of a Ferrari or Abarth, a guitar groove by Keith Richards or Maneskin, a dress by Valentino or suit by Gucci. I also find great inspiration in travel and nature.
In terms of living artists whom I consider my peers, I particularly like the work of Wes Lang. I first discovered Wes in 2012 when I was invited by George Bamford to the launch of the Bamford Watch Department x Wes Lang Rolex collection at The Dover Street Market in London.
The BBC described your work as 'The Highest Art on Earth' when it was worn by Kenton Cool at the summit of Mount Everest. Do you consider that an achievement?
I was more pleased that Kenton had achieved a safe and successful summit, he had also broken a record by becoming the first non-sherpa to summit Everest for the 16th time.
The whole project was very last minute. Kenton popped round with his headgear a few days before he set off for Nepal and we discussed the iconography he would like me to paint. The Buddhist mantra on the top of the helmet was important to him.
I used special eco-friendly liquid acrylics creating a very thin layer of paint that dried very quickly. I had no real idea how the paint would hold up in the extreme conditions and cold but, as you can see from Kenton's selfie at the summit, it did pretty well.
Kenton has since completed his 17th summit of Everest, another record broken, and I hope he continues to succeed in his ambitions.
How has your worked changed over say the past 10 years?
The world has changed rapidly in the past 10 years, more so than I can ever imagine. On some levels I can understand why and I have adapted my work accordingly.
The main change has perhaps been that I have toned down my imagery and made my work less suggestive, I have also broaden my subject matter. My work is also perhaps more serious, there is less humour because humour is itself a contentious issue today. My figurative works were never about objectifying women though some people thought they were. I was always painting from the perspective of the subject, a strong, confident woman who was calling the shots, not through the eyes of a man and plenty of women were drawn to them and understood my perspective.
As an independent artist, do you have any plans for future physical exhibitions?
Not really. Over the past 10 years I have shown my work in London, New York City and LA and hosted annual shows from an online viewing room but, I have little interest in displaying my work publicly in a physical capacity.
Social Media, good or bad?
The global obsession with social media has destroyed the human fascination with those whose achievement and success is real and quantifiable, not simply based on 'likes' and 'followers'.
I genuinely believe there will be a generation or two in decades to come who have serious mental health issues as a direct result of social media when reality dawns and they realise they had zero influence and no discernable talent to sustain the same lifestyle in the real world. It is a quite bizarre, insular and unhealthy situation and should be banned.
What are you doing right now?
I am busy creating new works and looking forward to an upcoming collaboration with a business I love in Florence, Italy.
As always, I will continue to do my thing... quietly but, effectively.
(c) Interview with Teddy McDonald, February 2024