Coffee + Art + Friends : Thor Erickson


Thor Erickson

Chef • Artist • Butcher • Educator • Leap Taker

I look at Art as a process. A lot of people look at Art as the destination or the final product. I look at it as part of the creative process. I don’t hang my paintings up anywhere, but I paint. I don’t sing at any venues, but I do that at home or in musical theatre. That is the joy– the doing. 

Artist have this great habit of being their own worst critic when it comes to looking at a product. You look at something and think “Oh, that’s not my best. I should’ve used orange but I used blue” or “Oh, my voice is not coming through as I want it to be” or “I could change that paragraph.” In my case it’s “wow, the crust on that salmon could have just a little more spice on it.” 

There are some things we can’t change. That’s tough but thats also great at the same time. There is a certain amount of ourselves that goes into art. I love it when people are unsatisfied with their own art. It means they’re real. Never trust anyone who thinks their own work is great. I’m an optimist and trust everyone until I can’t. But when somebody says oh yeah mine is the best, it’s clearly not.

I make a living tasting food. And I made a living making food for a long time. That is an art form that is so incredible to me because it is an art form that touches on so many different senses. When you describe something you are going to make it sounds good. You can put it together in your mind. It sounds delicious. When you create it it is visually delicious, hopefully, it smells good, too. Then when you eat it it tastes good. And then it satisfies your emotions. It strikes an emotional chord and then it is gone. It’s fleeting. There is no final work you can look back on. It’s gone. And even if its not eaten the product itself is perishable. If it sits there it only deteriorates and becomes awful as time goes by. That is something I love about it. It is so immediately gone.

The thing I love most when creating food, is the satisfaction it gives people. It sustains people. It feeds them, regardless if it is delicious or not. It’s that act— it’s like what Harriet Van Horn said “Cooking is like Love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” So if you are cooking for people, if you have friends over or family— that’s a magical thing. To embrace that when you are cooking in a restaurant for people who you don’t know, have never met before or may not even enjoy their company, you have to have that same feeling and passions when you are creating that food or it’s not going to work.

You have to let that go. Just like when someone is making a painting or a song, you can’t think of the person who is going to see it or listen to it and think about how they are going to feel when they enjoy or don’t enjoy your art. You have to think about how it makes you feel in that moment, in that process.

Cooking and teaching people to cook is a beautiful thing and it’s difficult. Like in a lot of other mediums, there is a lot of technique involved. It’s like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, “Why am I doing this wax on wax off stuff when I really want to a roundhouse kick to the Cobra Kai right now?” But being able to do that stuff in a very  unconscious way allows you to be creative, allows you to get out there and jam. 

My favorite part of cooking is jamming. I love going into someone else’s refrigerator and seeing what they have and going “ Hey! This is the jam session”. And then you create love and you create art out of those things that are there.

It’s my opinion that artists spend too much time dwelling in their medium. I think it’s always a great exercise to do something else. That’s why I do theater. That’s why I paint. It keeps those wheels of creativity moving. It took me a long time to do that. Those who paint mountains should probably hike mountains. It’s good to push yourself.

People all the time put themselves into categories of what they can do and what they can’t do. You would be surprised what you can actually do. Push yourself up against your limitations.

My favorite thing about making art is connected to my favorite thing about appreciating art—  that moment, when you are creating something, that moment just before it all comes together. It’s this no mans land of the complete unknown, where you are just at the top, just almost there. It’s like “am I going to leap off the cliff now or am I going to fly?” You leap off and you get that gut feeling— like on a roller coaster or something like you are about to soar. And in terms of appreciating, it’s looking at all these different types of art and thinking “what were they thinking or feeling in that moment?” Putting yourself in the artists shoes. It’s this physical, emotional, mental convergence of feelings—  you feel them all at the same time. 

It’s like a song that makes you feel that way the first time you hear it. That’s rare. Often times we’re connected to music from our past. On the way here this morning, I turned on my iPod randomly and there was a Replacements song. It took me to that very comfortable time and place. Well, now I look at it as comfort, back then it was a struggle.

The best music, the first time your hear it takes you to a place. Art can conjure up time and place like nothing else. That’s what’s beautiful about it. 

I have these John Simpkins paintings. When I worked at Sparrow he came in and introduced himself and I realized he did all the illustrations for the Tassajara cookbooks. I had been looking at his art for years. Cathy ended up buying these drawings for me— it was kind of a dirty trick, because when I had the cash to buy the art from him I went to him to buy them and he said he had already sold them. It was torture.

It’s hard for people to look at food as a medium. There is a canvas. There are paints. There are ideas. Once you can see that, it’s endless what you can do and there are so many ways to go about it. I butcher animals and that seems very cut and dry— no pun intended. There are so many ways to do that and so many things you can create by doing that. There is technique and science, but there is also nuance to it.

Learning to get to know yourself is one of the best things any one can whether they are an artist or not. Being an artist, taking time to spend quality time with yourself,

There was a time in my life that I called perfecting my solitude. It was’t monastic, but I was remodeling my house and working on my art and didn’t let anything interrupt it. I got to know myself and that was very freeing. Knowing myself helped me be able to soak in what was around me. I find that sometimes society forces people to go go go and not take that time to get to know themselves. Take trip, put yourself in that places of pushing limits by yourself for yourself. I think the outcome of that for an artist is great. We all benefit from it because we benefit from each other’s art. 

It’s a shame that Art has to result in dollar signs. I love it when I can have a conversation with another artist and be open with that person and have an appreciation for what they do and they have an appreciation for what I do. I know this artist who is creating a metal etching for me. And I am going to use my art to cook a meal for his opening when it happens. It is a mutual appreciate where we are excited to help each other and engage with each other. I love that aspect of it. I wish there was more of that on many different levels.

Nancy P’s • August 2, 2016 • Bend, Oregon