Exclusive Interview with Tom "Thor" Thordarson
My exploration of rum began long ago because of my interest in the world of Tiki. Over the years I have collected art and artifacts from the artists and cultures that have influenced the movement. I have always had a great appreciation for the modern artists who create some of the lovely images that we live with today.
When I heard about Tiki artist Tom “Thor ” Thordarson using rum to create some of his works of art, I had to learn more. He was gracious enough to take some time out from his schedule to let me interview him about his art and interests.
I am excited to share this interview with the readers of “Got Rum?” and am thankful for the time he gave us for this project.
What is your title and where is your company located?
Well I have had many titles over the years, but I am currently a freelance creative director and concept designer in the themed Entertainment Industry. I draw and paint constantly as a communication tool to inspire creative teams and executives to carry out the fabrication of a new theme park ride or attraction. Disney calls this role an “Imagineer” because the drawings and art have to be not only seductive, but they have to represent an idea that could possibly be built or experienced.
I graduated with honors from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA and immediately was working as a Ride and Attraction Concept Illustrator for Universal Studios in Hollywood, designing the look and feel of attractions like the “Water World Live Action Stunt Show”, the “Jaws Ride” and the King Kong 40’ animatronic ape that frightened millions of visitors to Universal Studios in Florida.
Later, I was hired as a Director and Senior Concept designer for Walt Disney Imagineering where I designed the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” ride and other attractions for Tokyo Disney Seas, Japan and other parks. After almost 30 years in this industry conjuring up rides, shows and other venues, I now balance this with my fine art paintings and published art, now available to the public through my new web site www.ThorArt.com. I am known as a Fantasy Artist and all of my fine art is published in Hawaii. I had to make the decision to leave full time positions in entertainment to become a consultant so I could juggle both careers.
What inspired you to start painting with rum?
When I was doing a signing in a gallery of my work in Waikiki about 8 years ago, a sort of sarcastic, yet entertaining older guy walked in the gallery and started chatting with me. He remarked that the artist in the gallery across the street (Wyland) was doing ink brush sketches of dolphins and things. He asked me why I didn’t do this too. I explained to him that since Wyland was already doing this, I would not likely do the same thing and would rather do something original to my style and personality. Well, he looked at my paintings on the gallery walls, scratched his nose and then looked at me, chuckled...and said, “Well Thor...looks like your paintings have a hell of a lot of Tiki mugs and booze in them....maybe you should be doing your brush sketches in rum! ” I laughed...but got the crazy idea to take up this guy’s challenge!
Next day, I got some 151 rum from a bar tender friend of mine at “Duke’s Canoe Club Bar” across the way and began to play and experiment in my apartment. I found that as the rum burned, it condensed and built up residue on the edge of the glass. After a lot of experimenting and trying different brands and blends of rum, I was painting and doodling up some pretty cool stuff! I had them framed, and took them to my Gallery...and OMG, people couldn’t get enough of these! The flaming rum made for a really dramatic presentation as I painted! Thus my “Rum Doodle” was born!
Were you surprised by the public’s reaction to you using this medium?
Yes I was, actually! I just thought of it as a fun gag to do a couple times and show I could pull it off. I never predicted the popularity these have attracted. But, I come from an industry where I always start with a story in my mind before I draw or paint. What I have found is that people who collect my “Rum Doodles” not only like the image, but the novelty of the medium and the story of how this all came to be for me as an artist painting in a substance you are supposed to drink!
My subject matter, when I paint in rum, is always something playful or mischievous- - usually nautical or tropical themes. I paint pirates, mermaids, and even some naughty tipsy monkeys stealing rum from barrels! I also love to paint deep sea divers on a quest for a sunken treasure chest of rum, fighting some denizen of the deep or sharing a nice rummy cocktail with a sexy mermaid! Haaa, I have a lot of fans that are in the Navy, some S.E.A.L.S and hard hat divers. Other collectors like the fun of the monkeys and whimsical pirates and ships at sea. Anyone who just enjoys rum itself also loves these. They make great, unique conversation pieces sitting by the bar having a sip of rum with your friends.
How do you make rum dense enough to paint with?
This took some real experimentation and is a highly classified trade secret! It’s not easy. I know how to do pen and ink sketches pretty well as a classically trained artist. Rum is a little different, but some of the same principles apply. You need dark and light washes. So I use rum straight from the bottle as a very light tone and when I need those dark punches and lines, I have to light that rum up and let it “caramelize” a bit. I have an old double walled “Trader Vic’s” skull mug for serving hot toddies that works great to hold the flaming hot rum. I blow out the fire at different stages and dip my brush into the mug to paint. The really dark rum residue on the insides of the mug make the really dense, dark color I use to finish off paintings.
Are certain rums better than others to work with?
Oh Yes! It’s a careful blend of more than 2 rums and I have a favorite brand as well...and that I will keep as a mystery!
As an artist, what has surprised you about your audience? Do you feel they are connected to the resurgence of Tiki and Tiki mixology?
I grew up in the mid-sixties and seventies here in L.A. My Mom had me when she was just 18 and was a young, single, divorced Mom for a few years raising me. She supported us working as a model and Playboy Bunny in the Los Angeles Playboy club on Sunset Blvd. She was quite a knock out! Still is actually. She snuck me in a few times when she stopped in to pick up her paycheck. I recall the dark, exotic mood in the Playboy Club with those orange candle lamps on the tables. All her "Bunny” friends would pinch my cheeks and ask me to marry them when I grew up! There is some inspiration indeed! Mom also liked Tiki restaurants and we often would go to these mysterious Tiki environments as well when they still existed. I loved the dark, mysterious mood they had, and drinking tropical punch from Tiki mugs with plastic swords, mermaids, maraschino cherries and paper umbrellas!
Fast forward to now… my exotic childhood Tiki memories and growing up many long summers with my cousins in Hawaii inspired me to paint Tiki themed art as my “stuff I paint for me” art. Ironically, I found that Tiki was finding a huge resurgence around the year 2000. I was approached by some galleries in Hawaii that saw my art and it launched my fine art career. I have been in numerous galleries in Hawaii and now am exploring the world of the Internet and social media to reach larger awareness by collectors and Tiki fans. The “Tiki Community” is wonderful! Lots of events like “Tiki Oasis” in San Diego every August, and “Hukilau” in Florida in the spring. These events are a collection of amazing Polynesian Pop and Tiki Art, carvers and incredible bands.
Tiki mixology is meant to use ingredients that transport the consumer to tropical paradises, full of fruity, floral and sugarcane/rum smells. How do you achieve the same goal through your paintings, when you only have the visual dimension to communicate such complex notions?
Well I can promise you when I paint with rum the air smells like a distillery! I have a little tradition, too... I sip some rum... and paint for 5 minutes. Take another sip... then 5 more minutes of painting. I do this till either the painting, or I, am “finished!”
When the rum is dry on the paper, it is permanent as any ink. It stains deep into the 100% cotton watercolor paper I use. The natural color is warm and nostalgic and timeless, like the enchanting sepia drawings in a vintage storybook. When you know the tale of how these art pieces are created and look at the little scene and step inside the paper in your mind, my hope is that the viewers’ imagination will fill their senses with the sweet rum and magic that is trapped inside! Many owners tell me that these pieces truly have an energy and “real” magical vibe you can definitely feel.
Your artwork is so diverse with themes involving sweeping seascapes, Tiki themes, and fun loving Geckos, what inspires your work?
Well the “Rum Doodles” are just a fraction of my work. I paint in full color acrylic most of the time. Aside from the childhood memories I explained earlier, I am inspired a lot by stories my collectors tell me or things I observe. I spent a lot of time in Hawaii watching geckos play and chase after insects on walls and rails at ocean-side restaurants there. I have a 12 year-old kid’s imagination... so it was a game I would play in my mind to often imagine what a life as a gecko might be like! I would think of what regular objects and things we humans use would be useful if I were only 6” tall. Plastic spoons left on a beach would be great surfboards, paper cocktail umbrella would be perfect shade from the sun, and an empty SPAM can left behind from a beach picnic that was filled with rainwater would be a great “Jacuzzi” spa for sure! Check out the gecko series on my website and you can see many fun things like this.
Also many of the exotic tree houses and rustic shacks on the tropical shores in my “Escape Series” of paintings were based on true fantasies that myself, or fans of my work shared with me. I love the stories I hear when I meet people that come to my shows or write me on Facebook or the website. I am inspired by life and the child and imaginations of the wonderful people I get to know.
If people want to purchase your work, where should they go?
www.ThorArt.com. I just launched my website recently and it will be growing this year with more original paintings, limited edition Giclee canvas reproductions, matted paper prints, apparel and merchandise. There are many options on sizes and price ranges, including new originals. The site has both a gallery for the serious art collector and a store where other products can be purchased. “Rum Doodles” are original, hand-made works of art and are sold faster than I can find the time to make them, but more will be coming out of the gate soon!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Well, just that they can look forward to a lot of really cool stuff and new art to come this year from me and on my website.
I have perfected a technique to create extremely realistic Jivaro “Shrunken Head” replicas that collectors say look amazingly real – more so than a genuine shrunken head! Owners say they are an absolute hit and huge conversation piece of their home or commercial bars. These sell very quickly and I have a long wait- list of commissioned heads that I make with my younger daughter Katelyn, who at 21 years old, is already an incredible artist!
My older daughter, Chelsea and her boyfriend Jesus, are also exceptionally talented and I am working with them to produce authentic, antique pirate flags made to look so real, you would swear they were stolen from a maritime museum! Nothing like them anywhere. These are not silk-screened prints you see everywhere online, rather the designs are based on historical research and the pieces themselves are hand-sewn with raw twines of rustic, battle worn canvas, based on the styles and actual symbols available in the 1700’s. They look KILLER hanging in a home bar, office or place of adventure.
Aside from that, I want to thank “Got Rum?” for inviting me to contribute to your truly wonderful publication! Thanks to you, my increasing knowledge and appreciation for this fine spirit that takes me to high sea adventures and tropical paradises with every sip truly deserves such celebration!
Aloha...with a clink of a mug and a warm handshake, ~ THOR