New York artist Bradley Theodore is best known for his colorful and vivid street art, which combines icons and fashion celebrities with pop culture. He has created four murals that are on display in the Great Hall of Louis Armstrong Stadium throughout the 2016 US Open, the last year before the stadium is torn down to be replaced by a new arena in 2018.
USOpen.org caught up with Theodore to discuss his four circular murals, each one five feet in diameter and featuring a quintet of American icons who have a connection to the stadium: Serena and Venus, John McEnroe, Louis Armstrong and Billie Jean King.
USOpen.org: How did this partnership with the US Open come about?
Bradley Theodore: They contacted me about a year ago and wanted me to submit some artwork. I have a large fan base in New York City – mainly affluent, intelligent fans. Some people suggested me to be the featured artist here to do this special collaboration. I thought it was an amazing thing to do. There hasn’t been artwork like this featured at the US Open since 1980s. That’s historic, so I’m honored.
USOpen.org: What was the inspiration behind these four pieces?
Theodore: The inspiration was about capturing four people who changed the game in their own way. Each one has a different spirit to it. John McEnroe was all about his energy and flair. Venus and Serena Williams, I wanted to focus on their sportsmanship. They are very, very amazing players, but what’s really great about them is that they both care about sportsmanship. Every time they hit the court, they work hard and they don’t complain about things. The US Open is one of the events that changed their life.
USOpen.org: How does your background influence your style?
Theodore: I was born in Turks and Caicos, but I grew up in Miami and New York. I think every place has influenced me. Caribbean art is all about bright colors, and I grew up wearing colors and striped polo shirts and golf pants. For my family, it was always a thing to be very bright and festive. Fashion and design in New York is serious. I grew up hanging out with fashion designers and models and mentors like Donna Karan and Andre Leon Talley. I love this creative world.
USOpen.org: When did you get into the street art scene and start using walls as a main medium?
Theodore: I’ve always been in the street art scene. It was something I’ve always done on the side. I would hang out in Tokyo and go to parties with Banksy years ago, and it was just part of the scene. I would always try and do something different. When guys were doing stenciling, I would take a shopping bag and cut a hole in it and tape a stencil to it so I could walk down the street and spray in bright daylight and nobody would know what I was doing.
During the financial crash, I did a painting series called ‘Buy art, not stocks.’ When I started painting and taking it seriously, I wanted to do things that I liked and believed in which is art, fashion and lifestyle. I do big, big pieces, but I wanted to do something different. Everyone in New York was trying to copy Banksy a few years ago, but I wanted to do something individual and be groundbreaking, so I started painting 12 feet by 20 feet murals by hand using traditional paint brushes.
USOpen.org: When did you start incorporating icons and celebrities into your art?
Theodore: One of the first pieces I did to include an icon was a portrait of Carolina Herrera. She’s a fashion icon. I did a series called ‘The Three Graces,’ featuring Herrera, Diane Von Furstenberg and Miuccia Prada because they were three women who created empires on their own through their hard work, intelligence and tenacity.
USOpen.org: Which other street artists influence you to become who you are?
Theodore: One role model is Fab Five Freddy, Freddy Brathwaiteone, one of the first artists that crossed over to mainstream. He grew up with Jean-Michel [Basquiat], Keith Harren and [Andy] Warhol, he was there when it was happening. Another is Ray Smith, who lives near the border of Mexico and Texas. He would give me advice. I’m an inquisitive guy, so I’d sit down with them and ask. Another is Futura 2000, and he’s one of the first artists to leave New York City and really go all over the world with the Sex Pistols to London and Tokyo and take that urban art to the mainstream.
USOpen.org: You decided to stay in New York. Is it a great place to be an artist?
Theodore: New York is a great place to live and work, but it’s a challenging city. No matter how good a day you have, something is going to go wrong. You can consider New York a tennis court. It’s you against the city. Even though you’re going back and forth and it feels great, it’s going to try and slam you. Every day in New York is like playing tennis.
USOpen.org: Do you get a chance to play much tennis?
Theodore: My brother and sister love tennis so we played a lot as kids. I’m not good at it, but I grew up with public parks and tennis courts and we would just go and play tennis. They were ballpersons in Miami and they first introduced me to Venus and Serena. Now I’m just happy to be a part of this. I love being here and seeing this and pinching myself because it doesn’t seem real. It’s the same thing for a player. Even if they’ve been here a million times, to come back they’re just wow. I’m happy to be here.
USOpen.org: To be a part of this for the last year of this stadium, what does that mean to you?
Theodore: This is one of those things where you just thank God. I worked and worked and worked to create these paintings.
USOpen.org: What do you hope fans take away from your artwork?
Theodore: I think everyone takes something different, but it’s all about sharing art in today’s world. People take photos next to my art and send them to friends, so art can travel and bring smiles to people across the world. It’s good that people appreciate things like this.