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Oil on panel
36 x 24 x 2 inches
Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City
One Christmas I purchased a virtual reality headset and entered the Metaverse as an experiment. I watched VR films, played games, painted in three dimensions, interacted with human avatars in social worlds, and even attended a VR church service. However, my foray was short-lived as I experienced intense motion sickness, even leading me to toss my not-so-virtual cookies!
As a society we must grapple with our virtual ecospheres, whether that be the addictive social networks we frequent, augmented reality, or the all-immersive Metaverse. Pandora’s box has been opened and hyperreality is shaping most of us whether we like it or not.
I began thinking more seriously about virtual reality after listening to Father John Misty’s song, Total Entertainment Forever,
“Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift
After mister and missus finish dinner and the dishes
No, can you believe how far we've come?
In the new age
Freedom to have what you want
In the new age we'll all be entertained
Rich or poor, the channels are all the same
You're a star now, baby, so dry your tears
You're just like them
Wake on up from the nightmare
When the historians find us we'll be in our homes
Plugged into our hubs
Skin and bones
A frozen smile on every face
As the stories replay
This must have been a wonderful place”
Likewise, in the words of Neil Postman, will we be “amused to death” via the mountain of infinite content? My painting raises similar probing questions. The composition radiates from the 5G cell tower, representing a modern Tree of Knowledge. Like the Buddha who sat cross-legged beneath the Bodhi tree of enlightenment, Qohelet levitates under the ‘tree’ that promises omniscience. The hope of becoming trans-human turns on us as the technology that promised freedom becomes an instrument of mass surveillance, an inevitable panopticon of power.
The abandoned cityscape in my painting is reminiscent of a popular apocalyptic motif in video games and film. As our world accelerates toward urbanization and the obliteration of the natural world, will we desire to escape to a virtual world? While Qohelet sits mesmerized, the encircling turkey vultures and famished Black Jaguar serve as the only signs of life. Is this the kind of dystopian existence we want? Perhaps the animals will jolt Qohelet back to the real world he was called to inhabit and steward. I am not a curmudgeon when it comes to technology, but as Dr. Carl Trueman asserted, “Technology… defines ontology.” [i] It can dictate the nature of existence. If we are not careful, virtual reality will become our true reality, the only world we care to live in.
[i] Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. 331.
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.