West Belfast artist Ted Pim on making a splash in LA before selling a single painting in Ireland

Combining an 'old master' aesthetic with a distinctly modern twist, Andersonstown artist Ted Pim's striking oil paintings are starting to be shown and sold all over the world. In the wake of a sold-out solo exhibition in Los Angeles, David Roy visited Pim in his east Belfast studio to discuss his work

Artist Ted Pim in his Belfast studio. Picture by Mal McCann

BELFAST artist Ted Pim's sold-out debut solo exhibition at The Salon gallery in Los Angeles has announced the unassuming 33-year-old as 'one to watch'. The LA art scene couldn't get enough of Pim's Empire Lines collection, which was fully sold out within two days of opening last November.

This striking collection of 18 paintings showcased the Andersonstown-born talent's signature oils-based floral scenes and portraiture – executed in a classical style before being artfully 'defaced' in a 21st century urban manner via deliberately applied drips and smears utilising etching inks and spray paint – in large scale, along with a bold new experiment in 'history painting': an imposing nine-feet by six-feet battle scene inspired by Samson's betrayal of Delilah which formed the centrepiece of the exhibition.

Two years in the making, this key work in the Salon show was actually influenced by the man who facilitated its exhibition, gallery owner and Hollywood casting director John Papsidera (The Dark Knight, Memento, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery).

"I'd never done a battle scene with so many figures before – and it was really because of who I was working with," explains Pim, who studied Fine Art at the Art College in Belfast.

"John does blockbusters and I felt like I needed to impress him. I think that really pushed me. Now I'm going to try more 'scenes'. Whereas before I've focused on single figures, now I'm maybe getting more interested in movement."

Having snapped up one of Pim's earlier works via an art agent, Papsidera had begun following the Belfast painter on Instagram, which is where the pair finally connected and the seeds for the Empire Lines show were sown while Pim and his family were holidaying in Tenerife.

"I was reading this story about a big Hollywood casting director who put on art shows," he recalls. "I'm crap with celebrities and I don't know 'names', but I recognised his. So I checked Instagram and realised that he followed me. My wife and daughter were asleep and I was bored, so I just messaged him to say I was a big fan of all his work – and he wrote back saying 'I'm an even bigger fan of yours, I have one of your pieces in the house'.

Ted with two of the pieces from his Empire Lines exhibition. Picture by Catherine Falls

"I didn't know that, so I was completely blown away. He was like, 'Sure get over to LA and I'll give you a show' – and that was it."

Not bad going for an artist who, by his own admission, has "never sold a single painting in Ireland".

"I've had a group show here before, but never a solo one," explains Pim, who paints full-time at his studio in the Portview Trade Centre on the Newtownards Road with his dog, Murphy, for company.

"I'd been working nine to five and just painting as a hobby but it got to the point where I felt like 'I've got to do this as a job', so I sent stuff to the [respected US webzine] Huffington Post and places like that – and they featured me. That's when international galleries started getting in touch."

Indeed, more of Pim's work has just gone on display as part of a group show at the Cuturi Gallery in Singapore, another exhibition is also in the works for the US this summer – this time in a group show in New York – and Pim will round off 2020 with a group show at Unit in London this December.

Just this week, he completed a large scale floral piece for the latter gallery to hang in advance of the December show "just sort of to get their collectors interested", but to be fair, it's already pretty clear that London's art world is hungry for Pim's work: a limited-edition print he supplied to Unit "just to test the waters" sold out its 50-copy run in just 90 seconds.

One of Ted's most recent paintings which was sent to the Unit gallery in London this week

When asked to explain where his interesting combination of classical detail and mischievous defacement comes from, the artist admits that the Biblical-themed figurative works on display when he attended Mass as a child were a formative influence on the 'retro' element of his painterly style – "I've always been obsessed with those paintings and the emotions they evoke," Pim enthuses – while the urge to then molest his intricately crafted oils with inks and spray-paint as a finishing touch is more of an unknown quantity.

"I get a bit of a thrill out of spending so long on a painting and then purposely 'destroying' them. It's sort of like I have more of a feeling when I do that and control the destructive element of dripping ink – whereas before, it was just a painting I'd done. Trying to control those drips is all part of the process."

He adds: "It used to be more even extreme, where I'd actually throw paint – but that ruined so many paintings because it was too erratic. Now I'm more into controlled destruction."

For his portraiture, Pim tends to pick out forms and/or figures from much larger existing works by his artistic favourites and then set about making them his own – and it seems that only the work of the old masters will do when it comes to sourcing inspiration.

"I tried to use modern models recently and they just didn't have the same impact," he admits. "It's hard to explain, but I've since gone back to the old masters – I just love Rubens. Creating a twist on their style is what I'm interested in."

Apparently, the signature black backgrounds which lend Pim's arresting portraits and colourful floral creations a tangible air of drama are also a compulsion which "just feels right" – even if others aren't always so keen.

West Belfast artist Ted Pim with Hollywood casting director and gallery owner John Papsidera

"Everyone told me not to have the black backgrounds," he reveals. "They said no-one would buy them as they're too dark. For the last show I even tried to paint using a lighter background, just as an experiment – but none of them made the cut, because I just didn't have the same feeling towards them."

As for where his career might take him next, the up-and-coming Belfast artist tells me he's interested in exploring another medium as a way of broadening the scope of his creativity.

"I'm maybe going to rent a space in Blackstaff [Mill] and start experimenting with sculpture," reveals Pim, who says his Portview studio space is probably too confined for such work.

"I'd really like something to compliment the paintings and look nice at a show without looking too out of place. It's something I've always been interested in."

If you listen closely, you can almost hear the sound of international collectors rearranging their furniture to make room for these pieces if and when they appear.

:: Follow Ted Pim on Instagram @tedpim

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