This was also the first time I was introduced to Tiki Tony Murphy and his amazingly imaginative artwork. My initial first reaction was "this guy is too cool". I ended up purchasing one of his carved tiki pendants and have tried to make it a tradition to purchase one every time I see him at various events he vends. I was also extremely happy to find that he had created a mug for Bar Pink, located in the North Park district of San Diego, CA, and was quick to add it to my collection. Below is my interview with Tiki Tony himself!
Tony - When I was 17 I met Alene and she had a Coco Joe's type resin Tiki in her bedroom that was from her dad from the 1960s. I was really interested in surfing and started the year before, so Hawaii and surfing and Tiki just all clicked with me. And at age 15 me and my friends were wearing old Hawaiian shirts we got from thrift stores.
Suz - Where do you garner your inspiration for your artwork from?
Tony - I grew up with a lot of old National Geographic magazines and I always loved the old illustrations in the ads. The 1940s through the 1960s have some of the best illustrators. I also grew up reading MAD magazine and I love Dr. Seuss, Tim Burton, Mary Blair as well as Shag and Derek Yaniger.
Suz - Are there any specific icons that truly inspire you?
Tony - Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room, as well as the posters and visual art advertising of the attractions also inspire me. Thor Heyerdahl's book "Kon-tiki" is a huge inspiration. I read that when I was twenty and loved how we weaved history, adventure and folk lore into a story.
Suz - When did you start making and selling your tiki art?
Tony - I carved my first tiki when I was 18 or so and my dad sold the first one on eBay or a swap meet and then some friends bought one. I sold a bunch of them at a swap meet in Ventura, CA and someone told me about Tiki Central. That was August 2002. After meeting that community of people my eyes really opened up. I was introduced to Sven Kirsten's "Book of Tiki", which has been my biggest influence of all. It's a cohesive history of how WWII soldiers stationed in the South Pacific brought back tikis and opened bars and restaurants with a tropical theme.
Suz - Do you remember which piece of art was the very first item you sold?
Tony - Yes it was a crudely carved piece of driftwood that was more driftwood than tiki. Haha! But it was kind of cool because it looked like an old tiki that had aged.
Suz - What is one aspect of your art or being apart of the Tiki art community that you are truly proud of?
Tony - One of the best things about the Tiki community is the people. Most of them are creative and have great ideas. It's fun to make artwork for creative people and see how they display it in a fun and interesting way. Many of them have a Tiki room or bar where they get to create their own environment.
Also since my very first tiki mug in 2006, my wife and I have been working together on mugs. Over the last few years she has been making all of the mugs. We sculpt the designs together based on my characters and she hand glazes each one so perfectly and precise that they are truly a work of art alone.
Suz - Tell me about how a piece of your driftwood artwork became a part of the Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar?
Tony - I was asked to be in an art show in Anaheim by Tom Laura aka Big Toe. The theme of the show was shrunken heads so I made a painting for it. Just before leaving I grabbed another painting last minute. Brandon Kayla, a Disney Imagineer and set decorator, just happen to be at that show and bought the artwork I grabbed last minute because it fit the theme of Trader Sam's. It was an islander in a tiki mask capturing a safari guy and a guy with a fez who are tied up. The guy in the tiki mask theoretically could be Trader Sam. The characters are a simplify boxy kind of cartoon modern style. After Brandon bought the piece we became friends through Facebook and he purchased more items for the Trader Sam's in Florida. I think there are four or five mugs a wall mask and a small whale painting in the Florida's Trader Sam's of mine.
Tony - Tiki Oasis in San Diego is the ultimate tiki event. It's put on by Otto Von Stroheim and it's a huge gathering of creative people who are into vintage tiki culture. Seeing everyone dressed in vintage tiki shirts and dresses is the closest thing to a time machine we will come to. It's also the biggest show that we do all year long. Second to that is the International Tiki Marketplace at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach, put on by Chris and Karen Garland. It's every six weeks and has been a consistent and great show for us to showcase our latest mugs and artwork.
Suz - Are there any other events you hope to vend at in the near future that you haven't previously vended at?
Tony - I would like to attend most of the tiki events like Tiki Kon up north and Luau by the Lake in Lake George, New York. We also just came back from Florida from the Hukilau which was a lot of fun. We are actually going to focus more on our online sales and shipping orders out this coming year and maybe do less events.
Suz - What new mugs and or other new Tiki Tony art can we look forward to from you in the future?
Tony - I'm looking forward to doing more of my Disney inspired artwork as well as prints that will be available on our new website. We are also expanding our mug making productions so we can supply tiki bars and restaurants, that I have relationships with, with a mug designed by me but made outside of our studio. Alene will continue to make our high-end art mugs, but we will just have a different version for restaurants and bars.
Suz - Do you have any words of wisdom to anyone starting a business selling art or more specifically selling art within the tiki community?
Tony - The only thing I can say is learn as much as you can about the history of whatever you're doing and be authentic and true to yourself. If you are entertaining yourself, most likely other people will be interested. Whenever I'm making something new I always try to make something that I would be interested in. Not everything will be a success and you have to learn to roll with the swells. For the few things that sell well, I have dozens of things that never sparked anyone's interest. The best advice I have is to play and have fun and if you are having fun, others will want to join. Making artwork is more about the community of people who support it than the piece itself. I'm always stoked to have a new fan, but I absolutely love seeing people come back to purchase mugs or even a pendant a second or third time. Repeat customers truly become friends and family because they influence me with their stories and displays.
For more information about Tiki Tony, please visit his official website here.
Till' Next Time,