Jonathan Thunder was born in 1977 in the small hospital at the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation in northern Minnesota. Having grown up in the twin cities, Thunder infuses his Ojibwe perspectives with real-time experiences using a wide range of mediums. He is known for his large scale paintings with surreal imagery, as well as animated films and installations in which he addresses subject matter from loss and recovery of Indigenous sovereignty, the effects of spiritual enslavement, environmental welfare, and humorous social commentary. Masked and animalistic characters in surreal and abstract environments often set the stage in these allegories Thunder describes as “vignettes”.
He has attended the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM and studied Visual Effects and Motion Graphics in Minneapolis, MN at the Art Institute International. His work has been featured in many state, regional, and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications. Thunder is the recipient of a 2020 Pollock – Krasner Foundation Award for painting. He has won several awards for his short films in national and international competitions.
At the core of my work is a story line that reflects my personal lens as a filter to the social, political, environmental and spiritual climate around me. I seek to create imagery that is surreal and imaginative by incorporating influences from the structure of my dreams, the culture around me and the direction my life is headed on any given day. I consider my work “vignettes” or short stories within a larger ongoing narrative that evolves as I evolve.
Canvas painting has been one of my chosen mediums since the beginning of my introduction to art. I believe in the simplicity of a moment captured. I like the viewer to experience a little mystery in viewing the images so they become invited to create a portion of the narrative for themselves. I prefer to work large and this allows me to fully explore the subject or concept in full detail and sometimes in real life scale. I’ve always been attracted to the way a large canvas can fill your peripheral vision while you walk through the details and dialogue.
I am also influenced by the culture of my other practice as an animation artist. I wouldn’t consider myself a cartoonist, I feel like each animation I make is a one-time film that exists on its own terms. But I have been inspired by the cartoons of my childhood in the 80’s and 90’s. This influence can be seen in paintings like Supernaut and the Pollinators Return to the Sky, which somewhat resembles an animated rabbit that I grew up watching on Saturday mornings. I have been able to use my animation practice to create stories with intent to speak openly about matters important to me and experimental films represent my journey in the form of surrealism. I enjoy merging my painter self with my filmmaker self to create art that lives and pushes the boundaries of a space. 3D projection mapping and digital canvases are the result of this process. Paint, pixels, light and space allow me to create in a way that makes sense to me.