Every day Johan Thunberg walks to his studio at the island Laxön in the village of Älvkarleby. Laxön is located in the middle of the wild and strong river Dalälven that runs through over 540 kilometers of Swedish land, to finally join with the Baltic Sea. Johan grew up in this area and has always loved the landscape. In his paintings he wants to honour this beautiful area and make it accessible to people all over the world through his paintings.
Quite some time ago, he decided to make the switch from oil to acrylic. He enjoys the material and appreciates that it is much more healthy to be around when he creates in his studio. ”Many people don’t understand how artists think”, Johan explains. ”The viewers sees a finished painting and thinks it’s beautiful or ugly, but they don’t consider the amount of thought and work that lead to that painting being created”. Drawings, photographs and hours in the studio are all components in the landscape paintings that Johan has dedicated his life and love to. ”I have a goal and I need to reach it, but it can’t happen without the work”.
In every painting Johan wants to bring out a tension in the motif, an exciting element. Light is always a focal point in his creative process and the light that Johan wishes to capture changes through time and space. He sees it in the foggy mornings or during a clear day. He sees it during an autumn afternoon by the sea while the glistening beams are burning through the reed. He sees it in the winter when the snow reflects purple, ultramarine and kobolt blue. ”I once showed a painting of a snow clad landscape and a viewer said to me; ’The snow is not white’. ’That’s correct, I replied’”, Johan laughs. He explains that according to his experience snow shows at least eight different shades of blue, depending on the light of that particular moment.
So what makes Johan fall in love with a certain view? ”Beauty”, he states. ”Beauty and light, reflections in the water.” His way of describing how the sun slowly sets in the ocean or how the wind moves the grass is almost poetic. Yet he claims that his paintings hold no deeper symbolic meaning. ”People may interpret the artworks as they wish, but to me it’s simply a tribute to nature’s beauty”.
Many viewers become very captivated by Johans artworks, and they ask time and time again; ”Are these places real?”. Absolutely! Johan is surprised that people don’t see them. Perhaps they are passing through too fast or are too busy to notice? Johan is looking, and he wants to capture what he sees.
Being an artist was never a specific plan for Johan, it happened naturally. From an early age he enjoyed drawing things, shaping and copying the look of a toy or a flower. He was fascinated by the work and always strived to become more and more accurate in his art. Growing up in rural Sweden at that time offered some unique moments to focus on the art. Sometimes there was so much snow that he simply couldn’t leave the house, and in those moments the art was his best friend. He started by plagiarizing works of the great Swedish masters such as Bruno Liljefors and Anders Zorn, and by painting elks and deers that he found in his art books. ”You practice and practice to learn the skills, and slowly you find your own personal artistic expression”, Johan explains. He later went out in nature to paint these animals live, and it was overwhelming for him. The experience of being in that great space yet limiting his sight to a specific motif took time to master.
When a painting is complete Johan is usually quite exhausted, letting go of all that concentration that has been built up. When creating he needs to take small breaks to get some space and see the missing pieces, a process he finds interesting. ”I’m so eager to finish the painting in the best way possible and to be truly pleased with the result. I never let go of a painting until I’m completely satisfied with it”, Johan says. He can have a painting standing in his studio for quite some time until he finally feels that it’s ready to leave. ”When I was younger I didn’t know when to stop painting, it’s something you learn by experience”.
He finds his absolute favorite motifs along the beaches during an autumn or winter day, when the ground is covered with a few centimeters of snow. It is the great silence that draws him to these places time and time again. ”The silence, the greatness of it all, wide views with objects entering your field of vision from far away and close up. It’s a big feeling to stand there and admire the light”, Johan says. ”There is something special about light and water, it attracts us and gives us life. Perhaps there is a natural human connection with these elements”.He remembers a day like this when he photographed many motifs to take back to his studio. It’s in the studio where most of his artworks come to life, with the help of photographs and memories. It happens that he brings his water colours out in nature to paint en plein air but because of his local fame he rarely gets to paint undisturbed. ”People come up to me to talk and see what I’m doing”, Johan laughs.
Johan Thunberg has a long and successful artistic career in Sweden, but he has also exhibited in numerous places in the United States, for example at the Swedish American Museums in Chicago and in Illinois. His works can now be seen in American institutions, government buildings and churches, as well as in many private homes.
During an exhibition at Lake Art Center in Iowa he held art walks where the viewers could join him on a journey though the gallery. It is a great opportunity for the visitors to ask questions. One visitor asked him if he lives in paradise, and to that there was only one answer; yes. He agrees that it is a very genuine and picturesque environment where he lives and works. The salmons are jumping in the river outside his studio and visitors from all over the world have found their way to little Laxön to visit him.
He once brought his tools in order to capture the American landscape, however the trips have always been so extremely busy that he hasn’t had the chance. Even though he is curious to seek new landscapes, the loving and tender relationship he has with the Swedish nature will always be the strongest. ”It is a part of my identity and my soul. It is almost a religious relationship, because in nature I find calmness and light”, Johan explains. Through his paintings other people can have a taste of his paradise and feel the calmness spread to them.
“As an artist I am in the present, in the room, and I have an outward attention. I accept reality, it meets me, creeps up on me. This reality awakens within me an inner feeling of joy and happiness, or of sorrow and anger. Every new painting is a conquest and the amazing thing is that there is a resistance to overcome. The resistance is the white cloth. ”
”Art, religion, science and philosophy are different ways to approach the truth. Could it be like a religious epiphany? That’s how it feels when I’m sitting in front of a motif, a motif that takes my breath away. It feels like I don’t want, nor can paint at all. The motif mesmerizes me and I become completely swept away by the moment”. These are the words of a true artist and appreciator of nature’s beauty, these are the words Johan Thunberg.