Jon Thom – young Dunedin creative

Like its northern hemisphere namesake Edinburgh, Dunedin has long prided itself on a thriving arts scene.

Like its northern hemisphere namesake Edinburgh, Dunedin has long prided itself on a thriving arts scene. 

Dunedin is a creative, literary city that treasures its past, celebrates its present and looks forward to its future. It is seen as one of the world's great small cities, which highly values arts and culture and nurtures an outstanding bunch of incredibly talented people. In December 2015, Dunedin was recognised as a New Zealand UNESCO Creative City of Literature.

Jon’s been painting and drawing for as long as he can remember. “As a kid I used to draw all over the walls,” he says. “My parents are teachers so they always used to have nice pens, which I used to steal and draw over everything – a lot of furniture had my scribbles all over it.” 

“I finished my portfolio in seventh form and my art teacher just said, ‘Here's all this stuff, these materials – make something.’ So then I started doing large works. And then from there I managed to get picked up by a gallery in Wanaka. I moved to Dunedin to come to university and then I won a couple of awards down here and got picked up by a gallery here as well.”

Jon applies his commercial and artistic sensitivities in the fashion company he co-founded, called Moodie Tuesdays. It turns out a wide range of original designs screen-printed onto T-shirts and sweats, and Jon is involved at every stage, from conception to delivery.

“It’s quite a cool sort of intersection of art, fashion and business,” he says. “Creating something, from it being an idea and then seeing it through to being a finished product, and seeing it hang in the rack – that's a very satisfying process. We advise our clients on the design process, we create the designs for them, and create something that people are going to talk about and a quality T-shirt that's going to last more than one or two wears.”

Most of the shop’s business is done online. “I'd say at least 60 per cent of our clients we never meet face to face,” Jon says, adding that being at the southern end of New Zealand lets him access a national market while maintaining low overheads. “I think in a way the isolation is quite good because we don't really get distracted with other things that are going on. That's the beauty about Dunedin.”

Jon’s certainly playing his part in keeping the city beautiful. While his award-winning works are hanging on the walls of private collectors all over the country, he was recently charged with covering an entire exterior wall. The commission was part of Dunedin’s Street Art Trail, which saw vibrant artworks exploring the city’s historic and creative influences on walls around the warehouse precinct.

Jon says his painting, on the rear wall of an otherwise demolished building, presented some challenges. “Pretty much all of my stuff is for indoors and normally I'm used to working on a smooth surface, and this was brick with bits of concrete falling off the surface as I was working. So it was quite an interesting process and against the clock as well.”

His inspiration comes from a variety of sources, he says, and he’s careful not to explain too much about his portraits. “It's about showing an expression that makes people feel something – I don't know exactly what that is, but different people have different reactions to different work. I kind of like to keep it a bit ‘untold’ and people can sort of make up their own mind – who this person is and what they're doing, and that sort of thing. 

“It’s not an easy place to live and work, like there's not a lot of people down here; but again there's kind of a strength in that as well. If you can succeed in that, it's also a pretty awesome place.”

“I think for the immediate future I'll be here. I haven't really travelled. I've done short stints overseas but I'm only 25 so I'd be quite keen to do some time overseas. But in terms of running a business from here, I think now, particularly with the internet and things, it's a perfect place.”

Experience these vibrant, artworks on the Dunedin Street Art Trail. Artists include ROA (Belgium), Pixel Pancho (Italy), Phlegm (UK), Natalia Rak (Poland), Dal East (China), Mica Still (NZ).

Currently there are 28 walls in the trail, which takes around 90 minutes to complete. You can pick up a copy of the map at the Dunedin i-SITE Visitor Centre or view the map here.