You may not know the name Sophie Terry, but it's highly likely you'll have seen her nudes. Paintings, that is. The artist, who uses the moniker Sophie Tea, has been slowly taking over the art scene (and Instagram) for the past four years – creating serious buzz by painting naked selfies (including some from a few nameless celebrities) sent to her by women the world over. Some sit for her in-person too.
For further evidence of her success: Sophie recently sold 100 pieces (for £2,800 each) in a mere 12 hours and has her own luminous pink gallery on Soho's Carnaby Street, along with a newly opened 999 square foot studio in Sydney. Her Soho spot features a nude selfie booth, a free vending machine and is deliberately social media-friendly.
If you're thinking 'Okay cool, but who has a spare three grand kicking about to buy her pieces?', Sophie is also determined to level the playing field when it comes to art collecting. She proudly offers the option of allowing her customers to pay in interest-free instalments – something other artists have since caught wind of and which is slowly revolutionising what's on display in the homes of thousands of Gen Zers and millennials.
"It's the best idea I've ever had," Sophie tells me, when we speak over Zoom one morning (she's in Sydney where it's early evening, I'm in London where the sun is freshly risen). Sophie generally splits her time between the two cities, but has been stuck in the latter throughout the pandemic, with her boyfriend. Originally from Cheshire, she explains how she got her start as a creative following her business degree, which saw her do a branding placement with a leading toothpaste company.
Only the corporate world wasn't leaving her fulfilled, so in her early twenties Sophie took a break before starting a grad scheme and travelled to India, where she stumbled upon a hostel with graffiti sprayed on the outside. It was serendipitous. "I asked if I could paint a mural for them in return for a free stay," she recalls. "Holding a paintbrush was a genuinely happy moment for me." It re-awakened her teenage love for creating.
Shortly after, she uploaded a shot of the multi-coloured cow mural to Facebook. "Friends of friends began to reach out to me with commissions. People wanted me to paint their pets – there's always a demand for pet pictures!"
She moved on to paw prints (they're quicker), while continuing to post her work online, and by the end of 2017 was making decent money – something Sophie was steadfast about from the get-go. Initially she harnessed her business skills (first creating a Tinder-style app for artists and consumers, before switching focus to her own efforts), citing a drive to give the 'struggling artist' stereotype the middle finger as motivation.
But animals weren't her biggest passion. Instead, Sophie found herself drawn to creating art based on the female form, in all its forms, often in her signature pinks and blues. After tiring of trawling Google for images of naked women to paint, she had the brainwave of inviting her Instagram followers (of which there are now over 169,000) to send naked photos of themselves. "After posting 'Who wants to be my muse?', I woke up to over a thousand messages, someone even sent me a Dropbox link to literally a hundred photos to choose from," Sophie laughs affectionately, explaining that she now refers to her models as "her nudies".
But it was the unexpected messages, the stories that accompanied the images, that took her by surprise. "There were women who'd survived cancer, who'd had mastectomies," she says. "Women who were dealing with body image issues, some who said 'I've never even sent my long-term partner a naked photo, but here I am sending one to you'. Others were grieving and just wanted to have something fun in their lives." There were pictures featuring self-harm scars, stoma bags, one from an eighty-year-old and stretch marks galore too.
Through working with some of these women (it was tough narrowing down whose image to use), Sophie says she truly realised the power in viewing your body as a gift and a thing of beauty, as something worth being painted. It's a transformative experience she's undergone firsthand too. "I used to be obsessed with having no boobs – until about four years ago, when one of my closest friends, Jenna, from SHRINE (formerly The Gypsy Shrine), who creates amazing festival make-up looks, used me as a model," she says. A photo of Sophie's breasts, covered in glitter, went viral. She'd become living, breathing art.
"Jenna made sure I was tagged in everything, which grew my followers by about 15,000," she adds. "I've never painted my own body, just as I haven't wanted to focus on me and I enjoy projecting other people's stories. The colours I use are my interpretation of everything my nudies tell me about their lives, how they feel about themselves."
Back on the business side of things, Sophie cites the importance of exclusivity. "If there are no limited editions, there'll never be a sense of urgency, which you need when you're convincing someone to buy your products," she explains sagely. Besides nudes, her repertoire also includes a series of multi-coloured hearts, sassy slogans and even an homage to McDonald's fries. Sophie's prices increase each year based on demand, plus materials and quality. "I charge a lot to give myself a bit of breathing space. I also have staff to pay, delivery and packaging costs. All of that."
For anybody else considering a career in art, Sophie is full of encouragement. "My friends were all starting work in London and instead, there I was moving back to Manchester," she says. "Art is seen as a cop out subject but there's never been a better time to go for it."
With all of us spending more time at home than ever before, within the same four walls, surely it's only right we see ourselves reflected in the artwork we're hanging on them?
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