Jonathan Thunder (b. 1977)
Thunder infuses his personal lens with real-time world experiences using a wide range of mediums. He is known for his surreal paintings, digitally animated films and installations in which he addresses subject matter of personal experience and social commentary. Jonathan is an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, and makes his home and studio in Duluth, MN.
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 states, regional, and national exhibitions, as well as in local and international publications. Thunder is the recipient of a 2020-21 Pollock – Krasner Foundation Award for his risk taking in painting. Since his first solo exhibit in 2004, he has won several awards for his short films in national and international competitions. His painting and digital work is in the permanent collections of multiple Museums and Universities.
I grew up reading Mad Magazine, collecting Garbage Pail Kids, riding skateboards with elaborate, odd designs on the deck, listening to Public Enemy, Rage Against Machine, Tom Waits and watching MTV. The Twin Cities is my hometown, but I was born on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, home to the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe. These two worlds are integrated to me, yet far apart. Both worlds inform my perspective, my work, and my outlook to the future.
Interpretive figures representing identity, situations and socio-political commentary are often the leaping point for my imagery. My approach is to balance the deliberate with the experimental. Each work aims to convey a moment or vignette that is not entirely spelled out to the viewer. I’ve been a fan of, and a student of animation films, which has been an influence on my painting aesthetic. My root practice is painting on canvas, which I carry over to installations, animated works, and digital designs.
Using images that incorporate masks, humanistic animals and animalistic humans is how I discuss identity dynamics among subjects. When composing each work, I think from a storytelling standpoint and create a vignette. The Lighthouse captures what I observed in our society during 2020. I leaned on the historic painting Washington Crossing the Delaware for the composition and assigned roles to representational characters that I recognize from my own life. Another painting, Quarantine at Grandma’s House is a scene in which an extended family is living under the same roof during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic. These works are composed of popular culture imagery from the Nintendo universe, classic tv shows like the Twilight Zone and modern tribal imagery. I’m also influenced by urban minutiae, bad graffiti, tattoos, tribal symbolism, children’s tales, and dreams.
Painting from life is the easiest form of expression for me to create honestly and fluidly. It comes naturally to create from my own experience. The topic of environmental issues is important to me because it is a part of how I interpret my identity as a steward of this planet with our future in mind. The painting Summer at Uncle Harveys Mausoleum was created in 2021 as smoke and record heat waves filled the summer days. The structure in the painting is a relic of industrialization in Duluth that was overcome by Lake Superior and now sits deserted and crumbling into the water year after year.
This year I am working on 2 solo exhibits which will consist of paintings and some digital canvases (animated displays like Manifest’o).