Interview with Gnarly Magazine Issue #2 artist BIGTOE

Interview -

Interview with Gnarly Magazine Issue #2 artist BIGTOE

As a thank you to the loyal Gnarly Magazine customers, we're offering the full BIGTOE interview from Issue #2. You can pick up a copy of Issue #2 here for more amazing kustom kulture artist features.


BigToe, aka artist Tom Laura, was raised in SoCal on a steady beach-rat diet of Ed Roth, Mad Magazine and Surfer Magazine's Rick Griffin. After over 20 years in the Southern California surfing and apparel industry, BigToe started painting for public exhibition in 2006.

Tom creates art with a casual, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor and playful eroticism that offers a nostalgic escape in our fast-paced and ever-changing world. BigToe’s art is inspired by the confluence of Tiki, Kustom and Surf culture. The fusion of these seemingly disparate lifestyles has always been an obvious one to the artist: all 3 are outsider ways of life. The last vestiges of wild west renegades.

BigToe's artwork lives in collections all over the world with collectors as varied as Sex Pistol Steve Jones, Blondie's Debbie Harry, and Google’s Googolplex. The art of BigToe has been exhibited at Gallery worldwide including La Luz de Jesus, Copro Nason in Los Angeles, as well as US galleries from Hawaii, San Diego, Orange County, New York, Detroit and Florida, and worldwide in galleries in Canada, Japan, France, England, Germany, Switzerland and Australia.

BigToe's artwork has been featured in books such as Korero Publishing's Kustom Graphics, Surf Story and Burlesque Posters books and in magazines such as Longboard Magazine, Car Kulture Deluxe, Bachelor Pad, Rockabilly Magazine, Varla Magazine, Tattoo Life Magazine, Campout Magazine, Tiki Magazine, Ol Skool Rods and MAD magazine, as well as Smokin' Shutdown/Germany, Burnout Magazine/Japan, Pinstripe and Kustom Graphics Magazine in England and Deadbeat Magazine/Australia.

The best place to find BigToe prints and original art is on Etsy:

Keep up with shows and events on Instagram: @BigToeArt and on Facebook:

GNARLY: So, the obvious and most important question is: Do you have Debbie Harry on speed-dial, offering yearly, free “touch-ups” to the painting she purchased?

BIGTOE: Haha, like The Picture of Dorian Grey? (look it up, you philistines!) No, but I did get to meet her at a party...I was a blubbering idiot, but she was very gracious, just so cool and normal. 

How did Steve Jones and Debbie Harry discover your work?

I sent Steve Jones (from the Sex Pistols) a message a few years back when he started doing a little Internet radio show called Jonsie's Jukebox and asked him to check out my work. He checked out my website and wanted to buy my first "Lucky Hula Girl," weird, huh? Debbie was a little different. I painted her just because she is a goddess, and my girlfriend Audrey told me she knows her makeup artist (and amazing DJ) Guy Vanvoores. He showed it to Debbie. She said she loved it, wanted a print and invited us to a party she was throwing on the roof of a Hollywood hotel. It was a surreal experience: Boy George spinning records, Chris Stein showing his photography and I got to meet some of my favorite punk rock, art and movie stars–too many to name drop–and best of all, I got to watch my girlfriend make out with Debbie Harry on the dance floor!

It’s interesting that MAD Magazine is famous for its satire, but many artists I’ve talked to over the years have mentioned that it was a big influence on their art. Do you think it’s the artwork alone or the combination of great artists and biting satirical wit?

I think it's definitely the combination of masterful level art skills combined with the irreverence of the art themes and editorial content. For so many of us, it's the first exposure we have to satire as kids, and it blows our little minds!

Who are your big influences now? Do you still have your subscription to MAD Magazine?

Man, too many to list. I don't subscribe to MAD, but one of my proudest moments was having a Spy vs Spy painting I did included in the mag. I am influenced by so many artists, from heroes like Frazetta, Robert Williams, Ed Roth (along with Ed Newton and Von Franco), Todd Schorr, Mark Ryden, Glenn Barr, The Pizz, SHAG, Rick Rietveld, Jim Phillips, Keith Weesner and John K (Ren & Stimpy) to artists working now like Craola, Shawn Dickenson, Damian Fulton, Candy, Brad Parker and my art brothers Doug Horne and Ken Ruzic. 

You’ve listed all the books that your work has been featured in, but do you have any plans to release a book on your own?

Funny you should ask, I have just inked the contract to produce a BigToe Art book by Working Class Publishing in sunny Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Look for it in late 2018 or 2019. 

Tell me a little bit more about your artistic training and what kind of artwork you were doing before you started doing public exhibitions.

I studied to be a fine artist at Cal State Long Beach (Go Dirtbags!) in the 80s. Having been raised on a steady beach rat diet of Mad and Surfer Magazine cartoons though, I was mentally ill-equipped for the type of art that was fashionable at university and in the galleries of the day. I didn't see the kind of art that spoke to me in those pre-Internet days. So I dropped out of the fine art scene and went into the surf apparel industry. I toiled away on surf and licensing art for apparel, etc for 15 years. In that time, though, I traveled the world and fell in love with the art and culture of Polynesia, which fueled my meandering back into fine art by way of "Polynesian pop" or tiki art and lowbrow art when I discovered Robert Williams' Juxtapoz magazine. 
What materials do you tend to work with in general? And, do you stray outside of your paintings to express yourself creatively?

Mostly I work in acrylic on canvas. I just really like the way the nooks and crannies in the canvas catch the paint from the brush. I don't really have a paint brand I am loyal to, just avoid student grade or BASICS paints. I use mostly Trekkel brushes. For some projects, I use masonite panels. I also love to paint on objects: Helmets, surfboards, skateboards, driftwood both from the ocean and the urban sort, old car parts are particularly fun. I find that painting an object that has lived another life imparts the art with a "mana" that adds to the final product. I LOVE to do "merch." I love stickers, t-shirts, magnets, pendants...all that shit. does most of those for me. I also love designing tiki mugs. got me started in that game. I love doing custom hand-painted versions of my mugs, too. For that, I use 1-Shot paint, which has made me truly respect the cats that have mastered that medium like Doug DoRr and Scratch.

Your artwork is colorful, powerful, and really tells a fun story that totally fits in the Kustom Kulture world. But, I’m curious if you have other, traditional type of work that you exhibit as well. You know, something that you’d say, “This is my Louvre piece.” (Not that your tiki dude and mermaid paintings aren’t Louvre-worthy. Ha.)

Well, I do a few traditional portraits in my style. Those are classical in inspiration but with my irreverent sense of humor. Highlights are the Blondie piece, as well as portraits of The Pizz and one of the founders of the Lowbrow scene, Long Gone John. On a side note: I work pretty closely with 2 other artists, Doug Horne and Ken Ruzic, who mostly work in the tiki world, but are both super flexible in their interests. We try to do a show once a year in which we pick a bunch of themes in and out of the typical lowbrow/tiki subjects, and that forces us out of our comfort zones to work on different genres. We take the show on the road sometimes and this year we are traveling to The Big Island of Hawaii to do a show with artist Brad Parker, and pollute the collective good taste of the Islands. 

What are BigToe’s artistic goals for 2018 and beyond?

Well, the big one is the BigToe art book. It's going to be a monster. How do you distil a decade of your life's work into 200 pages? I also want to do some bigger, more involved "Louvre-worthy" paintings. I am intrigued by all kind of other stuff too. The easy stuff like rolling out some art pins and some more ambitious goals like putting out some art toys. Some more art shows in Hawaii, Europe, Japan and Australia will also happen. Maybe even a kids book in the next 5 years. Aim for the stars, kids!

Finally, do you have any words of wisdom for all of the up and coming Little Toe artists out there?

Draw every day. If you want to be an artist, you need to be constantly filling "black books" or sketchbooks with ideas and drawings. Find a life-drawing club and draw people. Everything you need to learn is there on the human figure. Keep creating art and don't get discouraged if your early works don't live up to what's in your head. Don't expect anything really good until you're 100 works in. Above my easel, it says in big fancy letters: DO THE WORK.