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Douglas Thonen: A Story of Art, Resilience, and Community in Tampa Bay

Local Artist

By Brett Maternowski, Co-Founder of the Artistic Incubator

From the expressive strokes of Douglas Thonen, an artist who finds solace and meaning in the visceral layers of his paintings, emerges a tale not just of art, but of life’s intricate tapestry. Thonen’s work, characterized by thick, immediate brushstrokes, delves into the realms of portraiture and landscape, a vibrant expression of his dedication to the craft.

Embarking on his artistic voyage at USF in 2003, it wasn’t until a decade later that Thonen’s passion for art fully blossomed. He found himself drawn irrevocably to the world of murals, inspired by the masters and channeling his experience as an educator of students with special needs into large-scale expressions of creativity.

Settled in the historic Kenwood, Douglas Thonen immersed himself in the local art club, forging connections that would catapult his work into galleries and public spaces like the St Pete YMCA. Mentors like Jason Hackenwerth and Root Man have been instrumental in his journey, guiding him to become more involved and interactive with the art community.

Thonen’s devotion to art was sparked in his youth, a flame kindled by an art teacher who recognized his nascent talent. This early affirmation set him on a path of exploration and growth, leading him to a decisive moment at thirty when he realized that art was not just a passion but his calling.

While drawing comes naturally to Thonen, it is painting that truly feels like home. Despite the struggle to transition from pencil to paintbrush, it’s the tangible, physical presence of a finished painting that captivates and satisfies him.

The themes that run through Thonen’s work reflect his own encounters with mental health, a subject he approaches with both sensitivity and boldness. His upcoming project is a poignant endeavor to illuminate the experiences of those affected by mental health issues, addiction, and suicide, aiming to foster a dialogue and challenge the stigmas associated with these struggles.

For Thonen, the essence of his art is the tranquility it can offer—each piece a potential conduit for peace and serenity. As he weaves his personal battle with bipolar disorder and depression into his creations, art becomes a therapeutic escape, a beacon of hope and proof of the goodness within.

His inspiration is drawn from the everyday, from the landscapes and people that surround him in Tampa Bay. A community rich in diversity and culture has shaped him, infusing his art with a sense of place and identity.

The journey of an artist is seldom without its hurdles. Thonen candidly shares his transition from teaching to coding and art, a time of introspection and redirection as he seeks to create work that is not only visually appealing but also meaningful.

Success, for Thonen, is measured in the pride of his daughters, a testament to the personal nature of his work. His analytical mind, often perceived as judgmental, is in fact a reflection of an artist’s innate desire to understand and portray the world around him.

Through his art, Douglas Thonen aspires to impart a sense of calm to the community, envisioning a world where peace can be found in the stillness of a painting. Tampa Bay, with its varied art scenes, from the Shine Mural Festival in St Pete to the myriad forms of art that thrive throughout the city, continues to be a source of inspiration and aspiration for him.

Thonen’s gratitude extends to his mentors, especially Jason Hackenwerth and Root Man, whose influence and guidance have been invaluable. The Artistic Incubator’s potential to offer grants, mentorship, and education aligns with his ambitions, providing a structure to explore and expand his impact as an artist.

Looking ahead, Thonen is gearing up for a series of expressionist works centered on mental wellness, promising a compelling and thought-provoking addition to his oeuvre.

His advice to emerging artists in the community is heartfelt and clear: discover what ignites your passion and pursue it relentlessly. For Thonen, that passion is art, intertwined with the love for his family—a dual devotion that has guided his path and will undoubtedly continue to shape his creative legacy.

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