Kruk Gallery Jonathan Thunder Exhibit

Walk­ing into the Holden Fine Arts Cen­ter on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-Superior, you are imme­di­ately wel­comed by a beau­ti­ful brick walled inte­rior, a gen­tle glow, and a scent rem­i­nis­cent to that of your grand­par­ents’ attic. You may think, as I do, that this beau­ti­ful build­ing speaks just as much about art as the paint­ings, sketches, pho­tographs, and sculp­tures that call it home. Although this is one of the older build­ings on the cam­pus, fly­ers strewn across crowded bul­letin boards and stu­dent art­work parad­ing through the halls give a vivid pic­ture of the great amount of hours spent here by a hodge­podge of unique artists.

As you slowly make your way into the Kruk Gallery, your first glance inside reveals an aston­ish­ing absence. The room is com­pletely void of any fur­nish­ings or fix­tures exclud­ing a wooden desk just inside the glass doors. The walls are a dreary tan color, except for one brick wall behind the soli­tary desk, and the bare floor is grey and crack­led. The lone­li­ness of the room screams des­per­ately at you, with the only thing capa­ble of silenc­ing this dis­turb­ing cry being the twelve paint­ings that grace the walls.

While at first you see only bright color within these frames, the closer and the longer you look, the deeper you are pulled into a bizarre won­der­land. The paint­ing seated clos­est to the doors is one bear­ing the title, “Dan­ger­ous: Self Por­trait With My Father’s Pis­tol”, which is a self por­trait of the artist Jonathan Thun­der, in which he looks quite abstract and sur­real. Thunder’s inter­pre­ta­tion of him­self is a Native Amer­i­can man, with abnor­mally large fin­gers and one cheek that is larger and more geo­met­ric than the other, who is hold­ing a pis­tol in one hand. The illu­sion of smooth tex­ture within the paint­ing is inter­rupted by the muddy back­round which drips down the sur­face behind the fig­ure, whose expres­sion is quite sober in appearance.

Mov­ing clock­wise around the room, you would then come to a piece enti­tled, “Blue Cheese (Santa Fe Nights)”. In this image you see a man seated at a counter with a glass of wine. The wine bot­tle sits on the other side of his plate, and as you gaze at the pic­ture you can almost smell the pure, intox­i­cat­ing scent of the liq­uid. His plate has only a chunk of blue cheese on it, and a mouse sniffs the air hun­grily while stand­ing on the floor behind him.The man holds a nap­kin in one hand, and with the other he is bring­ing a fork­ful of cheese toward his face. As you look into the dis­tance, you can hear the music resound­ing from the group of musi­cians that are seen play­ing in a dis­tant cor­ner of the room. The odd part of this pic­ture is that the man seated here, as well as the band that is seen per­form­ing, has no facial fea­tures what­so­ever. I think that it may be safe to assume that this paint­ing includes inspi­ra­tion from the time that Thun­der spent study­ing at the Insti­tute of Amer­i­can Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

The next paint­ing that you see is dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers in that it is the only paint­ing on the wall of the gallery that has a piece of poetry, R. Vin­cent Moniz Jr.’s Fata Mor­gana, placed along­side it. In this paint­ing, which bears the title, “The Beau­ti­ful light of Delir­ium Tremens”, you are placed in front of a pink ele­phant who is dressed in a blue suit, and hold­ing a drink in one hand. Although the creature’s skin is wrin­kled, there is a soft glow emit­ted from its skin that is quite unnat­ural. The longer you look at this piece, the more uncom­fort­able you become as you feel the pres­ence of the fig­ure. Whether this is because of the strange­ness of the char­ac­ter or the uneasy gaze that it gives to the viewer I am unsure. The curi­ous sub­ject mat­ter and bold col­ors used in this work of art pull you towards it, as your curios­ity is height­ened con­sid­er­ably and you are left to won­der what pur­pose is hid­den within the painted canvas.

The Psy­cho Lounge-Bot” por­trays a robot with ter­ror in his eyes who is placed against a deep, smudgy red color. There is a meter on his chest with the col­ors of the rain­bow danc­ing along a curv­ing line, with a nee­dle that sits on the far right of the line –the por­tion that is col­ored red. It is as if you are watch­ing the fig­ure as it becomes mad. A scent closely com­pa­ra­ble to that of some­thing burn­ing becomes appar­ent as you feel the stress that the fig­ure cre­ates. As you stand frozen in front of this appari­tion, you are filled with the fear that the robot will sud­denly burst into an explo­sion that is quite the­atri­cal, but also dev­as­tat­ing because of the attach­ment that you have formed towards this character.

The Psy­cho Lounge-Bot and The Treach­ery” shows a robot, sim­i­lar to the one you have already seen, except this one is wear­ing a brown hat, and holds a rab­bit with closed eyes in one hand while grasp­ing a door that is attached to his torso with the other hand. The expres­sion of the robot is also much dif­fer­ent than that of the first one. He appears heart­bro­ken, des­per­ate and lonely, as if the one thing that he holds most dear to him has just been snatched from his hands as he stands by able to do noth­ing but watch help­lessly. The only thing that can be felt as you search the image is an over­whelm­ing sense of emptiness.

In another work dis­played, enti­tled “The Musi­cian”, the fig­ure shown has an appear­ance closer to that of a zom­bie than what one would typ­i­cally think of as a musi­cian, as the title seems to sug­gest it to be. He pos­sesses no instru­ment, but appears as a soli­tary fig­ure with a sin­is­ter smile that would imply deceiv­ing friend­li­ness. There is an evil look in his eyes that makes you quite uneasy as you strug­gle to match his gaze. The monster-like qual­ity of the fig­ure is increased as you notice that some of his limbs are dis­jointed, and a vul­gar scent like that of a rot­ting corpse comes to mind as you study the character.

As you con­tinue to move along the wall, the next paint­ing you will behold is “The Psy­cho Lounge-Bot #3”. Within the deep blue tones that over­whelm this image, you are able to per­ceive a robot who stares into the dis­tance with an expres­sion of des­per­a­tion and ter­ror. You begin to feel tense as the emo­tion of the char­ac­ter pen­e­trates your being and gives you a des­per­ate desire to help it. It is dif­fi­cult when study­ing this image not to wan­der into the deep­est cor­ners of your imag­i­na­tion, search­ing for a mean­ing to sat­isfy the realms of thought that only the most cre­ative, and at times the most dis­turbed, mind can con­jure up.

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Black Duck” gives you a sick­en­ing, uneasy feel­ing as you gaze into the eyes of a duck whose action and inten­tion appears quite ambigu­ous. He grasps a wheel­bar­row with a strange shape inside of it and stands beside a tat­tered house, some of the very few objects within the pic­ture. The land­scape behind the duck’s house gives no sign of inhab­i­tance, which gives the scene a feel­ing of intense empti­ness and sin­is­ter mys­tery. There is, how­ever, one other fig­ure in the pic­ture who is peek­ing out mys­te­ri­ously from behind the dejected house. This fig­ure, how­ever, gives a creepy qual­ity to the pic­ture rather than a com­fort­ing one. A smooth tex­ture is also seen in this work, which gives it a pol­ished feel that is quite strange paired with the con­tent of the image.

Even though this exhibit by Jonathan Thun­der can eas­ily be inter­preted as quite creepy and dis­turb­ing, it has an ambigu­ous qual­ity that invites you to explore the world that he has cre­ated and make it your own. Thun­der describes these paint­ings as jour­nal entries, but who is to say that we can’t incor­po­rate them into our own jour­nals? Maybe there is a paint­ing in this group that would inspire you, spark your imag­i­na­tion, or remind you of a time in your life that you have fond mem­o­ries of. This is what I find com­fort­ing about art: that it does not have to be only about the artist. Let’s be hon­est, if art was sim­ply about the artist, then the world would not be so fas­ci­nated by it because peo­ple like things that they can relate to. They like to com­pare things with their own expe­ri­ences. We love art because, when we study it, we are able to see a piece of our­selves within it.

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