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Auguries of Innocence III
Oil on birch
8 x 8 inches
Framed dimensions: 12 x 12 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
William Blake’s iconic poem “Auguries of Innocence” (1803) is emblematic of the Romantic period, in which nature was seen as a conduit for experiencing the sublime. Here is the mystifying opening stanza:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
Further on in the poem, I discovered a couplet that inspired my paintings:
“Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh”
This is a stern exhortation to preserve even these tiny creatures, lest we end up on the wrong side of Judgment Day! Blake’s poem is a manifesto to wonder––seeing grandeur in the small and innocent things of life. These themes are beautifully exemplified in the iridescent Blue Morpho Butterfly from my first painting in this trio. The black sand, forming an infinity symbol, hints at Blake’s poem about seeing the eternal in the microscopic. For my second painting, of the Madagascar Moon Moth, I thought about how the moon was a symbol of purity throughout Western art history (associated with the Greek goddess Luna and the Virgin Mary). [i] Upon a Celtic cross the moth, with crossed tails, enacts a crucifix, as an innocent suffering creature at the hands of tropical deforestation. The third painting features a Blood-Red Glider Butterfly, native to Central Africa. When researching this striking but tiny butterfly with a 2-inch wingspan, the heart shaped wings reminded me of the Celtic clover-leaf symbol found in medieval manuscripts.
Japanese rock gardens serve as a visual reminder of the ephemerality of life. In preparation for each painting I tried my hand at making my own miniature rock garden. I can personally attest to the paradoxical challenge of raking perfect lines in the sand, only to have them blown away in the next instant! This fleeting reality is reflected in the Latin American Blue Morpho Butterfly whose lifespan is a mere 115 days, and the Madagascan Moon Moth who only lives 6-8 days!
The Auguries of Innocence paintings reflect the broader themes of Vanitas and Virditas. Qohelet only sees the bleak sand and how beauty is transient, while Sophia observes the wonder of these butterflies and moth. In our world, innocence seems like such a foreign concept. Sophia delights in the innocence of children, and even in the planet’s tiniest creatures. Insects make up the largest share of species in the animal kingdom, but these species are “the little things that run the world.” [ii]
Insects like the moth have a major PR problem, as people often associate them with unpleasant outcomes like holes in wool sweaters and blankets. I wanted to depict the beauty of moths, and share how they (along with butterflies) play a hugely important role in the food chain, and in the transferring of pollen so we can have plants that provide us food to eat and oxygen to breathe. [iii] These beautiful creatures are meant for more than hobby and display, as in the butterfly collecting industry. Representing them in my paintings is an act of faith against impending extinction and a call for the conservation of innocence.
[i] Carr-Gomm, The Secret Language of Art, 242-243.
[ii] E. O. Wilson, as quoted in Animal: Exploring The Zoological World (Phaidon Press), 7.
[iii] A Rocha Field Notes Podcast, Episode 1.
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.