Tommy Tropical Interview
DH: Whats behind the name Tommy Tropical?
TT: I wanted a fun, friendly name to go with the playful nature of what I paint when deciding what to go by as a business and on social media.
DH: Your art is very colorful and vibrant with an out of this world feel. Aliens, dinosaurs, graffiti lettering, even animals and monsters. What influenced your style?
TT: I call it “Psy-Fi” or psychedelic fiction. Always liked sci-fi movies for spaceships and exotic locations, comic book art, fantasy novel cover paintings, and getting sucked into books for escapism growing up. My brain will just go “what if you combined dinosaurs with space army guys and they’re battling?” and then I start plotting out how I would execute that on a wall and have it tell a story. I would draw a lot of imaginary cars, ships and airplanes growing up and I still reference those days when I need to come up with an idea. I get inspired and motivated by watching films, going to the library to flip through books, and studying paintings in museums. I am always paying attention studying my surroundings: the architecture I drive past, design of cars in traffic at a stop light, plants and trees I walk past.
DH: When did you start painting murals?
TT: I’ve always been into drawing and painting since I was a kid. In high school I was the kid who drew all the time so when they’re about to make a shirt for a school event they’d go “Tommy should do it, he’s always drawing!” Those were the first “commissions” and my first mural was in 2010 where we made a deal with a local business to have permission to paint their back wall if we did their logo on the front wall. In college my capstone class was on large scale art and I did a few murals around town to model what I wanted to eventually do professionally. It started snowballing in the last few years to where I needed to come up with a name and all that.
DH: Have you ever thrown up any noncommissioned street art?
TT: Not really, most of what I paint takes too long to throw up quickly in the dark. After the fun factor there’s also the financial transaction part, I am providing a service for money so I can go pay my bills. I am trying to slowly and carefully explain to Arkansas that you can paint a building colorfully and that I’m not in a street gang because I use spray paint. I like contributing to the community and building relationships with people as well, if they know I did it then they can tell the next business owner they know who’s wanting something done that I do good work.
DH: Are there any artists you look up to or that have inspired your work over the years?
TT: Fantasy artists like Boris Vallejo, Moebius, Frank Frazetta, Matte background painters for movies before computers did everything like Albert Whitlock, American Landscape/Hudson River School guys like Thomas Moran, Thomas Cole, Asher Brown Durand. Contemporary artists Hannah Yata, Alberto Hernandez Reyes, Rick Griffin, Tomas Sanchez, Will Toulan, Hajime Sorayama. Too many to name…
DH: It’s hard to go anywhere in the River Valley or Northwest Arkansas without seeing Tommy Tropical Art. If you could pick only three of your murals for people to see, which ones would they be?
TT: Probably any of the three large ones where I had 100% creative control. Nomads Lounge and Starlight Skatium in Fayetteville, then The Golden Rule in Fort Smith. I got to go full throttle and really get out every idea in my head I had in mind for the concept.
DH: You did the artwork for Camp SaySo, a multi day music festival in Arkansas. How has music influence your work?
TT: Music festivals have been a great environment to meet people and showcase art. I grew up with the Last Sayso and SlumLordz guys and we used to be drunk freestyling and scribbling with sharpies at parties and now they have their own groups touring and hosting festivals. Good for them! I have met lots of other artists (music and visual) that inspire me and we feed off each other and raise the bar for each other on what we think we’re capable of accomplishing and pushing to evolve. I do pretty good selling posters/prints I draw to celebrate the event and it’s a good ice breaker to walk up to people and introduce yourself to strangers. They are a nice break from reality and you can reset your brain after being there a few days just like you would from a vacation. You don’t have work the next day and your friends are on stage while you’re painting so you forget about “real life” for a little while and your energy can be spent on creativity.
DH: Any advice for inspiring artists that see one of your murals and want to express themselves through street art?
TT: Just draw and draw to start building a foundation. Study other artists work and their process. There’s so much on social media and such you can look at to see how other people are doing it. It took a long time for me to get consistent opportunities and have control over my thing. I started making my name by cold calling and walking into places asking if they’re down to have something painted for free.
DH: What are a few places in North West Arkansas or the River Valley you’d recommend people check out?
TT: Several of the places I’ve painted at have awesome vibes and are cool to check out, my art is only one part of that experience. The American Shaman Kava Bar has several artist’s work on their walls and a monthly rotating artist. Doomsday Coffee has several locations I’ve painted. Nomads Lounge, Nomads Trailside and Wake & Bake are another group of people that have been great to paint for. Brunwick Place in Downtown Fort Smith has murals by several artists and is a neat building to walk around.
DH: Thanks for your time, anything else you’d like to add?
TT: Check out my work on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM !