[Editor’s Note: When God created the world, he saw that “it was good.” In this series, we want to explore how our faith in Jesus helps us celebrate and enjoy what’s good in creation––but also work as stewards to help it thrive to its fullest potential. Caring for our planet, including plants and animals, fungi and microbes, ecosystems and people, is a high calling from God––a calling in which we can engage out of love and not fear. The gospel gives us hope that what is broken can be restored, and even now, we can enjoy what has been given to us. Join us as we #celebratecreation.]
This is an excerpt from artist Josh Tiessen’s new book, Streams in the Wasteland.
Josh Tiessen was born in 1995 in Moscow, Russia. He is an international award-winning contemporary artist, who works from Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery, located between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Ontario. His shaped oil paintings, which take 200-1700 hours to complete, reflect the interaction between the natural world and human cultures. Mentored by acclaimed Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman, Tiessen has exhibited his work since 2006 in over 100 shows including the National Gallery of Canada and prestigious galleries throughout the United States. Tiessen is often featured in the press and media, and is a sought-after speaker, teacher and writer, graduating with a Bachelor of Religious Education in Arts, Biblical Studies, and Philosophy in 2020.
Oil on Baltic Birch, 36 x 48 x 2 inches, 2015
My family contracted Lyme Disease in Russia. Unfortunately, it was not diagnosed early enough and became chronic, but thanks to an army of friends we were able to get treatment in the United States. During three months of daily IV infusions stronger than chemotherapy, after long days at the clinic I would putter away on a painting. This provided a therapy of its own through a very challenging time, an escape to another world.
While working on a large painting like this one, the long process allows me ample time to conceptually formulate my thoughts on the piece. Continuing what I had entitled my Streams in the Wasteland series, this painting fit the theme of wild animals in abandoned spaces. Gothic architecture fascinates me for its intentional diversity, which also reflects the variety and lack of rigidity in the natural world. The history of Gothic reveals a gradual discovery of the beauty found in natural forms, which could be transferred into stone edifices (According to 19th Century Art Critic John Ruskin, On Art and Life, 48). I imagined the concept for this painting over a year earlier, then later found architectural reference from the ruins of a 12th century cathedral in London, England. It had been transformed into a peaceful garden intertwined with ivy, red roses and fallen petals historically symbolic of the Passion of Christ in European art. This would provide an intriguing exterior for an ocean scene emanating through stained glass.
I became interested in Humpback Whales from watching the BBC series Ocean Giants, which recorded epic sights and sounds of the largest mammals to ever live on the planet. The behaviour of whales, specifically their vocalization, remains somewhat of a mystery to scientists. Many believe their ‘songs’ may be more than mating calls, for the non-utilitarian act of expressing emotions, passed down throughout the generations like cherished songs (Overheard at National Geographic Podcast, “Humpback Hit Factory”).
In contemplating this I looked back to the gothic cathedral, a space for praise where parishioners sang hymns to their Creator. So also metaphorically the haunting chants from the giants of the deep bring honour to their Maker. This painting serves as a reminder for me to bring honour and praise to my Creator in the midst of my chronic illness.
Streams in the Wasteland Book Summary
Streams in the Wasteland is a dynamic body of work completed by artist Josh Tiessen over the course of five years. In the style of Narrative Hyper-Surrealism these exquisitely crafted oil paintings depict nature’s reclamation. In them, wild animals have dominion over human civilizations, implicating humankind for ignoring the Creator’s call to care for the earth. The artist’s desire is to offer streams of hope within the apocalyptic wasteland. Exhibited across multiple gallery shows, for the first time the entire Streams in the Wasteland series is presented in a luxurious hardcover monograph book. Tiessen’s articulate synopsis explains the series, with informative commentary and humourous anecdotes accompanying each of the full-colour images, reflecting on the environmental and spiritual themes behind his work. While viewing the art, enjoy listening to the Streams in the Wasteland (Original Soundtrack), composed by musician Zac Tiessen, soon to be available on CD, Spotify, and Apple Music.
You can pre-order or purchase Streams in the Wasteland on his website.