Terry Bradley - Taming the Black Dog

Published: 04 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 197, April, 2011

If it weren’t so close to home, it would read like something out a U.S. soap opera. Sibling rivalry, depression, hated by the critics and loved by his fans, Terry Bradley, much to his bemusement as a man simply doing what comes naturally, finds himself at the sharp end of the public stick. But here, he is in safe hands…

haven’t interviewed a good ‘n’ proper Irishman for years. I’d forgotten that once you get us Celts started on a good story, it’s hard to slow the train down… 

With the black dog having had the proverbial long walk and lying quietly in a kennel for the time being, Terry Bradley is in good spirits today and on a high having just completed a piece for Ronan Keating, but more on that later.

A native of Shankill Road in Belfast, his mother kept him inside for most of his childhood to shield him from the troubles that were going on outside their front door. Finding solace in Herge’s stories of Tintin, he also began nurturing talent through his own art. 

To come full circle in his life story so far, Bradley – a successful full-time artist in his own right - now finds himself something of an inspiration to children, not so much in a similar situation, but certainly at a loss for a way to navigate the future. Working with both local kids and prisoners, he has taken his “fuck the critics” approach and delivered it – as only a true artist can – into the hands of future generations:

“All that nonsense about which brush to use and what kind of hair the damn thing is made of – that’s not art. Art is getting what’s inside onto the canvas, or whatever it is you’ve got available to paint onto.

“You know, to the critics, I don’t exist. It bothered me for a long time – and sometimes, it still does. Once you start making a name for yourself doing something that you’re good at and love doing, the assumption is that you’re this confident person and that people can take potshots at you. But that’s not me. I’m still just Terry Bradley, a guy that loves to paint who found a way to maybe take his family on holiday once in a while without having to worry about it. That’s not the same thing at all.

I just don’t understand art critics. When you’re artistic, you’re always, without exception, your own best and worst critic, so how can somebody who doesn’t know anything about you judge what you’re doing wrong? I have no time for them at all. The feedback from people is what matters. You shouldn’t have to have a degree to like something – it’s a visual thing that hits when you first see a piece and that’s pretty much the end of it!

Working with kids, well, I just don’t have the resources to sponsor them or anything, but what I have got is some time and some space and I’d really like it if we could get some of them coming here and being involved in art, hanging out on the beach and having a few laughs but also putting some work in and getting the job done. I’ve also been working with some prisoners out in McGillian.

There’s this one big guy there and he had copied some of my work and hung it on his wall, I spent some time with him and worked a lot with him and the guy ends up getting an A Level in art which is brilliant.”

Having once owned his own clothing shop, Bradley came up the hard way and it was only when a chance conversation with John Reynolds, the owner of the famous PoD club in Dublin, led to Bradley’s first solo art exhibition, that he began to find his feet. The night was a huge success and Terry finally started to make some money from the one thing that had stayed with him all his life, but it’s been no bed of roses. 

Recently, he has been involved in a very public and bitter family feud in which his two brothers have been allegedly copying and selling his work as originals – leaving him with no small amount of bitter after-taste and a fistful of credibility damage he never imagined having to deal with:

“You know, there’s no other words for it, it’s been a shit 18 months for me. There’s been all kinds of crap thrown about. My solicitor – who also works for Harrison Ford and Britney Spears – he said we could have them in court in a flash and sort it all out, but I don’t want to do that you know. My mother is still alive and in spite of everything, I don’t want to bring the black cloud down on her as well. 

It takes time and effort to get involved in that sort of thing – especially when I have my own demons to tame, and my time is better served trying to be positive as much as I can. Painting, taking care of the business I am in and getting involved with kids and the prisoners who love the art and see in it what I see in it. 

Talking of my solicitor – I never thought I would need one as a right hand man. You get into things that you love doing and you think it will be easy and a joy, but all kinds of shit can come and bite you once you start becoming successful.

Right now, I have the seeds of a graphic novel being put together based on my characters in Sailortown. I’m really pleased with it. It’s not something I ever set out to do, but it’s provided another outlet for the art. You learn as you go along and right now, I’ve got it all locked up with my solicitor and we’re moving along with the idea with some of the guys from DC.”

Terry is so open about himself these days and will talk about anything, so I feel like I must touch on the subject of his depression and how it affects his work:

“I’m quite open about being bi-polar. When you suffer like this, being open about it is the best thing you can do. Sometimes I wish I had a broken leg just so that people could visibly see that I was ill, but I tell you, since I got my tattoo – and it’s a dark old thing as well – it acts like a badge of recognition for me. Identifying it and wearing it on the outside helps. 

I hate doing interviews with some people, but that’s why this interview with Skin Deep is the right thing to do – it’s the sort of environment, where you understand art and what it is to be an outsider even when you’re successful at what you’re doing.”

And does he think that he would be half the artist he is if it wasn’t for the depression?

"God, no. That’s part of who I am. You just have to find ways of harnessing it and getting it out of you and onto the canvas. A lot of people who suffer and who are talented in an artistic way deal with it like that.”

A few hours ago, I actually finished and shipped off the piece I had been working on for Ronan Keating. I’ve known him for years and years and he’s not the person most think he is, you know. Anyway, he doesn’t know that I’ve done it yet, but I’ve asked that when he opens it, he open it alone. It’s an extremely dark piece – I hope he likes the bloody thing! But that’s a good example of that channeling of energy. It has to go somewhere otherwise, it will eat you up inside.”



Everybody loves Tintin don’t they? A series of comic strips created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi under the name Hergé. It dates right back to 1929, so for a strip that’s nearly 100 years old, it’s shaping up pretty well. 

Tintin has been published in more than 80 languages and shifted over 350 million copies worldwide and has spun off in to merchandising, books and films, the latest of course being Spielberg’s adaptation with a screenplay by Steven Moffat.

Interestingly, Hergé’s personal life also affected the series. Tintin in Tibet was heavily influenced by his nervous breakdown. His nightmares, which he reportedly described as being “all white”, are reflected in the snowy landscapes. The plot has Tintin set off in search of Chang Chong-Chen, previously seen in The Blue Lotus, and the piece contains no villains and little moral judgment, with Hergé even refusing to condemn the Snowman of the Himalayas as “abominable”. Hergé’s death on 3 March 1983 left the twenty-fourth and final adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished. The plot saw Tintin embroiled in the world of modern art, and the story ended as he is about to be killed, encased in perspex and presented as a work of art, although it is unknown whether he really dies at the end of the story.



Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Terry Bradley