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Oil on panel
36 x 24 x 2 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” [i] This philosophical musing from Qohelet, the “Teacher” in the Jewish wisdom tradition of Ecclesiastes, warns that the pursuit of knowledge, wealth, and all pleasures under the sun is nothing more than a vapour. The figure in my painting, whose silhouette is reflected in the windows of an old university science lab, is a modern version of the ancient teacher. He is a disenchanted wanderer in a world of smoke and mirrors, pondering the question, “What is the cure to the banality of existence?”
Similarly, the French mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal described the predicament of being caught in the despair of human existence: “On all sides I behold nothing but infinity, in which I am a mere atom, a mere passing shadow that returns no more.” [ii]
Qohelet is intrigued by complex scientific theories and concepts. This painting depicts the idea of string theory: that at the subatomic level all of life is interconnected through vibrating strings of energy. The criss-crossing yarns inside the window are being woven into a nest by two Indigo Buntings. For me, sketching and painting are much like mind-mapping. Qohelet utilizes this non-linear approach of connecting the dots between seemingly disparate reference points, a similar method to John Nash shown in the movie A Beautiful Mind.
Reading modern cosmology, Qohelet is dismayed by the inevitable heat death of our universe. Perhaps the multiverse will be a cosmic saviour, the hope of other inhabitable galaxies with life-sustaining planets like ours that can be accessed through worm holes in Space. But, alas, this is the domain of science fiction and not based in fact. Through the window is seen a whimsical sunflower, like the ones in a Vincent van Gogh painting, and it captivates Qohelet. Despite van Gogh’s life of depression and sorrow, he saw glimpses of the Divine through nature. Likewise, Qohelet is fascinated by the ‘golden ratio’ spirals of the sunflower florets. The Fibonacci sequence of spiral growth is a cosmic constant, from the nautilus to the galaxies [iii].
While Qohelet is tempted to deem life absurd without any objective meaning, he is not wholly satisfied with that answer. He prefers to press into the mystery. Will the Intelligent Design he discovers in science and nature evoke in him wonder and desire for a world re-enchanted [iv], or is it merely a human evolutionary survival instinct to ascribe meaning to a universe of “blind, pitiless indifference?” [v]
[i] Ecclesiastes 1:2
[ii] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 11.
[iii] Boeyens & Thackery, South African Journal of Science.
[iv] Articulated by Charles Taylor in A Secular Age.
[v] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden. 132.
Born in 1995 in Moscow, Russia, Josh Tiessen is an international award-winning artist based near Toronto, Canada. Tiessen is best known for his hyper-surreal shaped oil paintings, which take up to 1700 hours to complete, and reflect the interaction between the natural world and human-made structures, drawing upon his studies in philosophy and theology.
As a young artist Tiessen was designated one of the world's top ten prodigy artists by Huffington Post, and the only known male art prodigy in North America by Dr. J. Ruthsatz, global prodigy expert. As a teenager he was juried in as the youngest member of International Guild of Realism among foremost realist artists from around the world, Artists for Conservation and Society of Animal Artists, elite groups of the top nature and wildlife artists worldwide. Art Renewal Center designated him Associate Living Master, and New York based gallery Jonathan LeVine Projects awarded him First Place from 2000 artists in their international competition Search for the Next Great Artist. LeVine presented the emerging artist’s debut international solo exhibition “Streams in the Wasteland” in May of 2019.
Mentored by masters like acclaimed Canadian artist Robert Bateman, Tiessen has exhibited his work since 2006 in over 100 exhibitions including the National Gallery of Canada and prominent galleries in the United States. He has sold over 150 original works and hundreds of limited edition giclée prints to private and corporate Canadian and international collectors.
Featured over 200 times in the press & media (Forbes, American Art Collector, International Artist), speaking and teaching at 60 venues, and making 90 invited art donations to charitable organizations, Tiessen established the Arts for a Change Foundation. This prolific artist has garnered over 60 awards and honours including International Guild of Realism Creative Achievement, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and Canada's Top 20 Under 20, for his artistic accomplishment and philanthropic work.