Thomas Moberg is a painter and jewelry designer from central Wisconsin and recently relocated to Iowa City, Iowa. In 2018, he graduated with a BFA in 2D visual art from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, where he focused primarily on figurative oil painting, life drawing, and portraiture. Shortly after graduation, his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Thomas moved back home to be his caretaker. While home, his paintings shifted from portraiture to rhythmically abstracted plein air paintings of landscapes seen along his grade school bus route.
After his father’s passing in 2019, Thomas stepped in to help his mother run their family business, The Northwoods Goldsmith, where he began apprenticing as a metalsmith and jewelry designer. After three years of collaboration and learning, they closed down the shop, divided the tools, and Thomas relocated to Iowa City where he is now a freelance jewelry designer and painter.
Thomas has been in multiple exhibitions with the Center for the Visual Arts in Wausau, WI, and has been a returning artist-in-residence with The Heist in Ripon, WI since November of 2021. His work was most recently exhibited at the Yellowstone Art Museum and the Valdosta National Exhibition at the Dedo Maranville Gallery in Georgia.
Meet the Artist
What has plein air painting taught you about yourself? I see plein air painting as a framework for exploration and finding meaning. It all began when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and told that he only had one year to live. I was fresh out of college at the time, and had the flexibility to return to our rural home in central Wisconsin to be his caretaker. I took up painting en plein air as a way to create space for myself, spending my free time meandering down the country roads that surrounded our house and painting the landscapes that I found along my grade school bus route. I was trying to live in the nostalgia of my childhood, to access a joy and innocence which at that moment felt alien to me. These paintings lacked the angst of the self-portraits I’d made in college; these were smaller, more colorful, and playfully abstracted. It was a shift away from self-examination, and onto my broader relationship with the world.
This was how I found context for the lessons I’d learned in watching my father pass. As I bore witness to my father’s journey in dying, my plein air practice became a ritual in living. Every time I went out to paint, I was leaving the house on a curious wander, driven by the profound sense that there was real meaning to be uncovered in the world. As I now know, the point of this practice is to have the experience. Plein air painting is a framework for exploration; it is an opportunity to wander with an open mind, to engage with the environment, and to honor the moments that move me. Even on the days that I can’t find anything to paint, where I simply search for the sublime to no end, the point of the exercise is still fulfilled. An experience was had, and my relationship with the world is deeper because of it.
What is the furthest you have traveled for your art/plein air? I never have to travel far to find something worth capturing. For the most part, I use this practice to find meaning in the places that are closest to me. That being said, I also love to work from life as a way to capture memories, so I pack a gouache set and tons of drawing media whenever I leave home for vacation.
Can you share a fond, or unusual, memory of plein air painting? I had an idyllic experience in the summer of 2020 while I was participating in the Art Share program with Rising Sands Organic Farm in Custer, WI. Through the program, I was invited to paint landscapes on their farm in exchange for a bi weekly share of the produce (similar to a work share CSA). It was a great way to ride out the early days of the pandemic - totally outdoors, socially distanced, and it put food on the table! That summer I would drive an hour out to the farm, paint, and return home with a big box of vegetables. On the way home, I would pull off in a nearby field to play my dulcimer and watch the sun set.
What is a recent thing that you painted or drew a picture of? There’s an 80 year old Dairy Queen here in Iowa City that I’ve been trying to paint at dusk to capture both the setting sun and the hot pink glow of the neon signs that flick on when it’s fully dark. It’s still bitter cold out, and I hate having to deal with lettering, but I have to take a crack at it.
What is your favorite plein air subject, location or time of the year to plein air paint? I really love finding vistas, spaces with a lot of atmospheric perspective, where the landscape stratifies into distinct shapes that can be abstracted. My favorite subjects are the ones that surprise me, or where I feel like I’ve found and honored the beauty in an overlooked space.
What is something that looks fun that you want to try? A plein air painting competition!