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Greening the White Cube
Oil on panel
23 x 40 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
Satirist and cultural critic Tom Wolfe spent years traversing the museums and galleries that populate the New York art scene, describing them as “temples of Modernism.” Standing in front of thousands of Jackson Pollocks, de Koonings, Newmans, Rothkos, and Klines, he was promised a visual reward by the cultural elite. But it never came. He eventually realized it’s not “seeing is believing” but “believing is seeing,” since Modern Art has become completely literary, wherein paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text. [i] Realistic art was eschewed in favour of abstract art, which served to prop up art theories deconstructing material reality—be that through Cubism, which broke down objects into geometry to illustrate rationalism and mathematical inquiry, or Expressionism representing human emotion and inner feelings, seen as the true essence of reality. Leading art theorist Clement Greenberg noted that, in the past, painters from Giotto to Courbet enjoyed the task of creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface, whereas Modernism rendered the stage shallower and shallower, ultimately bringing about “the abrogation of those spacial rights.” [ii]
In addition to rejecting representational art founded on philosophical realism, modern artists spurned beauty. Willem de Kooning admitted: “Beauty becomes petulant to me. I like the grotesque. It’s more joyous.” [iii] This is evidenced in his painting Woman I (pictured centre right). Throughout art history, the beautiful was often associated with feminine and natural forms, both of which are unsurprisingly absent in the canons of Modern Art history. The works of art in my painting Greening the White Cube are among the most famous of the 20th century––all completed by white men. According to designer Ingrid Fetell Lee, in her book Joyful, Modernism had a “near-allergic reaction to organic forms,” aspiring to a “rationalist mode of design free of sentimental flourishes.” [iv] Thankfully, female artists of that period like Hilma af Klint, Georgia O’Keeffe and Eva Zeisel are now being celebrated, and beauty is back.
Sophia peers into an abandoned art gallery, lamenting the industrial-masculine complex of Modern Art. Arguably, Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog should be categorized under Post-Modernism. Yet, the same errors of anthropocentrism––to dominate and control nature––loom large. Their representations of animals serve merely as objects of fetishization, pandering to the prestige of trophy-hunting art collectors.
In the Biblical book of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom is contrasted with Lady Folly. Contemporary artist Christopher Wool’s painting Untitled (Fool) poignantly illustrates that ‘the emperor has no clothes' as it sold at Christie’s in 2014 for $14 million. Lady Folly is alive and well in the art world. She may have been deconstructed and fragmented in Picasso’s prostitutes (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon), but her seductive allure of material wealth and status is all too present. Conversely, Lady Wisdom knows that she is far “more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.” [v]
Greening the White Cube is my artistic manifesto. Lady Wisdom has been calling out in the public square of the white cube, but the art world has largely refused to heed her call. [vi] Since her advice has been disregarded, chaos and disaster prevail. Sadly, much of Modern and Contemporary Art has alienated the general public from visual art, which has been replaced by popular art forms like music, theatre and film. The art world’s #MeToo movement, tax-evading fraudulent galleries, and an unregulated art market haven’t improved public perception. My painting envisions a future of natural reclamation––a time when the hallowed halls of the art elite will no longer reject beauty. As Modernity passes into the bonfire of vanities, it makes way for a new wisdom-filled viriditas (greening) to take root.
[i] Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, 4-5.
[ii] Herschel Chipp ed., Theories of Modern Art, 580.
[iii] Willem de Kooning, quoted in John Elderfield, de Kooning, a Retrospective, 277.
[iv] Ingrid Fetell Lee, Joyful, 291.
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.