While a pair of clouds puts on a puppet show, the sun blows bubbles into the nebulous night sky. Local artist Thor Goodlife calls this style of art on his mural too “zany” for Hillsdale, but here it is, stretching across the facade of Stadium Roller Rink on West Carleton Road.
Under the name Thunder Circus, Goodlife has collaborated with artists everywhere from Michigan to New York to bring color to public spaces. Sometimes he’s paid for his work, but sometimes he does it “strictly for fun,” as with the roller rink, which was funded by donations from individuals and businesses.
After Goodlife posted on Facebook this summer that he was looking for a wall to paint, owner Doug Ingles offered his roller rink. The front and side walls, which Goodlife and several other artists began painting in August, are still unfinished. Ingles said they’re not going to be done any time soon.
“I don’t think art is ever done,” Ingles said.
“I’m going to be messing with it until he gets tired of me painting on his wall,” he said.
Thor Goodlife has been an artist his whole life. Born in Allen, Michigan, he studied art in Chicago and now lives on a small farm north of Jonesville with his wife and four children.
“For being an ‘urban artist,’ my real life is a total opposite of that,” he said. “We have chickens and gardens and homeschool the kids.”
For his art projects, he often enlists the help of large groups of artists — and sometimes even non-artists. Those with little artistic experience can fill in colors or help with scaffolding. Whenever he needs help with a project, Goodlife just puts a message out on Facebook.
“I feel like the world’s kind of coming to me. Now I’m a genius instead of just being crazy,” he said.
Goodlife painted two murals in Quincy, both bearing the town’s name and tagline, “Gateway to the Chain of Lakes.” He was commissioned to paint the first mural, which the town paid for. The second he asked to paint.
“We’re blessed to have him in our own backyard,” Ingles said.
Goodlife enlisted other artists to paint the side of White’s Welding in Hillsdale. Employee Todd Ritchey said he appreciated the mural.
“Hillsdale’s kind of a flavorless town,” Ritchey said. “Art is made to make you think, and if you go by and you hate it, at least you thought something.”
Urban art permits a unique combination of artist collaboration and immediate reaction from the public, according to Goodlife.
“It’s just like music or something. Do you just want to look at gray walls or brown walls? Art serves different purposes. There’s art that makes you think, there’s art that’s just like sitting in an armchair,” he said.
Back before the existence of smartphones (Goodlife couldn’t recall the year), he helped a group of students from Hillsdale High School to paint the mural, now peeling, on the side of Adkins Automotive. Goodlife himself painted only the bench under the illustrated barber shop window. He enjoys working with amateurs and people of different skill levels because they have different styles, which gives art an eclectic look, he said. He’s also found that those with less experience bring more energy or have wackier ideas.
As for his own art, Goodlife said he’s not trying to “blow people’s minds;” he simply wants to inspire others.
“I don’t think it’s technically amazing,” he said. “With my art, I want people to be like, ‘I could do that too,’ and go do it.”