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All Creatures Lament
Oil on panel
26 x 26 x 2 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
“We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with
creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”
––Hildegard of Bingen [i]
Physiologus, a 2nd-century monastic text, was a predecessor to medieval bestiaries extolling the moral symbolism of real and imagined creatures, accompanied by lavish illustrations. One of the legendary stories is of a mother pelican who pierces her breast to feed her young, a phenomenon believed to take place during seasons of extreme drought. This visceral image was applied to Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross—shedding his blood to make atonement for the sins of humanity. In the Gospel books of the Bible, Christ likens himself to a mother hen: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” [ii] Over the centuries many cathedrals adopted the symbol of the mother pelican and her chicks in the form of colourful stained-glass windows.
Drawing on this theological symbol, my painting depicts a mother pelican’s strident attempt to rise from the oily muck to save her chicks. I had in mind the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. This explosion of a rig managed by oil company BP was the largest marine oil spill in history, affecting Brown Pelicans in Louisiana, as well as White Pelicans many kilometers inland. In addition to oil spills, the ecological disaster of ocean plastics proliferates. Fishing nets are the worst perpetrators, and hooks that get lodged into wildlife. By 2050, 90% of seabirds will have plastic in their stomachs. [iii] Recently a train derailment in Ohio unleashed toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride into the air and waterways, resulting in nearly 45,000 animal deaths (primarily fish) and affecting the health of local communities, one of the worst catastrophes in American history. These environmental disasters manifest the proverb, “Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.” [iv]
When I read the words of Hildegard of Bingen (above) I am reminded that my love for the natural world must also involve a response to its endangerment. All Creatures Lament is meant to be an unpleasant and sobering work that spurs us on to action. Looking into the face of an innocent suffering creature, we also look into the face of Christ, remembering that we are called like he was to stand with the oppressed and marginalized, no matter the species.
[i] Hildegard of Bingen, De Operatione Dei, 66.
[ii] Matthew 23:37
[iii] All Creatures Podcast, Episode 291.
[iv] Proverbs 22:8
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.