Updated: May 25
This international award-winning painter describes his talent as a "God-given gift".
Josh Tiessen is an international award-winning contemporary high realism artist from Stoney Creek. Discovered as a child, Tiessen is considered one of the world's top ten prodigy artists, and the only known male prodigy artist in North America. The artist was influenced by his nanny, who taught him the ropes of realism as a child.
"From a toddler I had an interest in art, as my Russian nanny would spend long hours with me doing arts and crafts, holding up my stuffed animals and teaching me how to draw them with shading and perspective," said Tiessen. "When I was nine years old I was discovered by a wildlife and pet portrait pastel artist in Burlington, who invited me to her studio and began passing on her skills. She booked me for my first art exhibition, which I had in the gallery space at Joseph Brant Hospital when I was 11."
At the age of 14, Tiessen was invited to study under one of his inspirations: Robert Bateman.
"After my first solo gallery exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington when I was 14, I was invited to study under internationally acclaimed wildlife artist Robert Bateman on a remote island in B.C.," said Tiessen. "Because I was under-age my mom had to accompany me, and during a personal dinner with Bateman he told my mom that she and my dad needed to “step-up” and help me, as an artist could not do it alone. After receiving high praise for my work from Bateman, I realized that I could pursue art professionally, as up to that time it was just a hobby, along with other art forms like photography and graphic design, and I had actually been more focused on rep. basketball. Naturally, my earliest art was inspired by Bateman, but I also experimented with abstract expressionism and cubism. Over time I would always return to realism, but moved on from Bateman to develop my own darker, richer palette, and a style that juxtaposes animals with abandoned structures painted on non-rectangular panels."
Growing up a child prodigy can have some set-backs. Tiessen says he found it difficult to relate to kids his age.
"Another challenge was that while local media like Cable 14, CBC and CHCH, along with Hamilton art collectors, were huge supporters of my art, no prominent Hamilton galleries took an interest as they thought I was too young," said Tiessen. "But I never let that hold me back, and established my own Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery in 2010 when I was 15. Locals and visitors from all over the world started coming to my gallery and purchasing my original paintings. My own little gallery soon qualified for Ontario Attraction signage, and topped all the other Hamilton galleries by earning the Hamilton Community News Reader’s Choice "Best Art Gallery” Diamond Award for the past six consecutive years. After I exhibited in a group exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, and was awarded a “Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal” and Canada’s “Top 20 Under 20,” I went on to exhibit at prominent galleries in the U.S. and earn multiple international awards. The past decade has truly been a wild ride, although not without its challenges!"
Tiessen started selling his art at ten years old.
"Well, one of the things with my career is that it’s been a gradual development over time with one accomplishment building on another one," said Tiessen. "One of the earliest recollections that really blew my mind as a child was when 'strangers' started to purchase my art. While I had given away early works to family and friends, I was approached to do my first commission when I was ten years old, and since then I have been fortunate to sell over 100 original works, making it possible to make a living from my art and do what I love. Another major development was coming first, out of 2000 artists worldwide, in an international art competition that a prominent New York gallery, Jonathan LeVine Projects, was hosting called 'Search for the Next Great Artist.' The winning prize was a debut international solo exhibition at the gallery, which occurred last May and launched me in a bigger way onto the international contemporary art world stage. Spinning off that, a large gallery in downtown LA, Corey Helford Gallery, took me on, then after exhibiting at the LA Art Show I was discovered by Rehs Contemporary Gallery from Manhattan."
Tiessen says it's hard to choose a favourite piece.
"Here's a recent one inspired by a Hamilton location, called “The Academy,” which references the architecture of University Hall at McMaster," said Tiessen. "The full story can be found on my website, but here’s a summary:
'In medieval bestiaries and renaissance art, animals were endowed with moral symbolism. Apes and monkeys represented human carnal desires, and were often used as satirical depictions of man’s folly. While this may have unnecessarily denigrated the primates, it was meant to highlight the virtuous standards humans were held to. The earliest universities can be traced back to Europe in the medieval ages, where the development of intellect, respectful debate, and formation of character were seen as essential. While I consider myself an academic with a great respect for academia, it seems to me that the great legacy of civil discourse in higher education is crumbling. In my Streams in the Wasteland series I depict animals and nature reclaiming human civilizations as a sign of judgment for humans rejecting the Creator’s moral law. In line with this theme, I crafted a scene with two White-Handed Gibbons climbing the ivy-covered ‘ivory towers’. The setting sun metaphorically indicates the end of academia if civil discourse dies.'"
The artist is working on his largest painting yet.
"Right now I am preparing my largest work yet, a three-panel triptych that will conclude my Streams in the Wasteland series, which I’ve been working on for the past five years," said Tiessen. "The piece will feature all the preceding animals I have painted in the series. Since the total size will be 5' by 8', it’s going to take at least eight months to paint, but people can follow my progress on my Instagram and website."
When he's not painting, Tiessen gives back within his Arts for a Change Foundation.
"While I do have career goals, what’s more important to me is being faithful with my talent and resources," said Tiessen. "Through my Arts for a Change Foundation I enjoy supporting environmental and humanitarian efforts. I’m also on the board of the Friends of the Eramosa Karst, a group that protects the Eramosa Karst, a conservation area in upper Hamilton/Stoney Creek. I enjoy speaking at community groups, conferences, and schools across Southern Ontario, many in Hamilton. I especially love being able to inspire young, budding artists like I once was."
Tiessen explains how COVID-19 has effected both his professional and personal life.
"In some ways it hasn’t, as I’ve still been able to work in my studio and keep creating, so I can’t really complain," said Tiessen. "I’m a home-body and an introvert so “stay-in” orders are happily accepted. I did have to shut down Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery from accepting visitors, but that’s given me more time to focus on my work. I was planning on travelling to New York for a group exhibition at Rehs Contemporary Gallery in Manhattan, which has since been postponed. So I’m disappointed about that, but of course very sad for all that’s going on in that city with Covid-19. Because my family and I are all immuno-compromised due to Chronic Lyme Disease, we have to be especially careful, and on doctor’s orders must not go out. Fortunately, our church community has been looking out for us and picked up groceries, which we are very thankful for."
Tiessen hopes his art can be used as a comfort tool during these stressful times.
"While art is definitely not an “essential” in times like these, I hope that people who own my work or at least follow it online will be uplifted," said Tiessen. "Art, and especially nature art, has been proven by academic studies to have positive psychological benefits. Art-making is also very therapeutic, so I encourage anyone reading this to draw on your creativity through these trying times. I personally believe that art is a God-given gift to humanity, which makes bleak times like these more bearable, as a way to process grief and suffering, and shine a light of hope."
(Postponed due to COVID-19.)