Swedish artist Johan Thunberg would like people to spend more time looking at their surroundings, ride their bicycles a little slower and care more about nature. The international attention for his art is steadily increasing, and the next stop is Beijing. – I’m very grateful to get to do what I do and I’m grateful to people’s reactions, says Johan Thunberg.
You paint in front of a 7-8 metre window overlooking a river, on the opposite side of the room an equally big window overlooks a meadow full of summer flowers. As a contrast to the stillness a total of 25000 visitors came to your studio last year. How do you handle this?
– This time of the year a lot of people come and look at my work. But it is only now during the spring and summer, that I keep my studio open to the public. The rest of the year I keep it closed and focus on my work. Being a painter may be social during exhibitions and when the studio is open, but other than that most painters are lone wolves who mainly prefer to work.
You will soon exhibit your artwork in a large museum in Beijing and you will be there in person. What response do you expect?
– I have met with three delegations from China who have been here to see what I do. They appreciate the light in the paintings and they see them as exotic. What was interesting to me was that they could see signs in the paintings and they made interpretations of the nature depicted. For example they looked at a painting with two magpies on a fence and a woman recognized the subject as herself and her husband. In another picture of a river they told me that they could see an expression of life itself.
Over the past years your biggest international market has otherwise been the United States. What are the reactions there and do you know where some of the paintings that you have sold are today?
– Americans and especially Swedish descendants experience nostalgia when facing the motifs and sometimes they find it emotionally very difficult. I’ve had 21 exhibitions in the United States since 1999, including a major exhibition at the Lakes Art Center in Iowa where I also taught watercolour during a week.
– The paintings exist in town halls, among private collectors, cultural centres, libraries and museums. One painting hangs in the breakfast room of the Swedish Embassy in Washington.
It is difficult to talk about your art without mentioning the exceptional light. Why is light such a central element to you and how do your surroundings effect you?
– We all have something inside us that attracts us to the light; fire fascinates us when we grill hot dogs and we stop when passing by a clearing in the forest and say ”look how beautiful.”
– I have my favorite spots that I often return to, they are by the sea or inside a boat house. I know what exact times to see what I want to see; if I am looking for a beach and two swans I know where to go. Even a cloudy or rainy day is beautiful here and a sunny day means fantastic light out on the cape. There is something special going on there between the water and the sky. I’m often there and paint in the spring and between late summer and autumn.
What do you do technically to recreate the light out there?
– I paint in acrylics and watercolour. I use a particular technique in acrylic by creating a foundation with many layers.
– Watercolors are often done outdoors and in addition to that I collect photos and sketches that I bring back to the studio.
Seventeen years ago you began making a living from your painting. What is your biggest challenge today?
– The strife is always the painting itself, it requires incredible concentration; sometimes a painting is made in one day and sometimes the work keeps on for several months. I’m tired when I come back home after a day of painting. But it is my job to come here and I am my own boss. Without discipline and concentration, I would achieve nothing.
What do you wish people to learn from seeing your work?
– I am aware of the fact that a lot of people appreciate nature, but I wish that more people would learn to stop more, bike a little more slowly and care more about nature and protecting it. I’m very grateful to get to do what I do and I am grateful for people’s reactions.
Johan Thunberg is booked for several exhibitions until 2019.