Back in June, 1995, I would of been a strapping almost one year old exploring my home down in London, Ontario, Canada. While I was discovering all I could on this continent, Josh Tiessen was born thousands of miles away, in Russia. How ever slim the chances may of seemed at that time, just over eighteen years later, both of us still only teenagers, we managed to meet up with each other at The Josh Tiessen Studio Gallery, in Stoney Creek, Ontario. We had the chance to talk about the adventure his life has been so far, and the one mine has been over the past ten months or so. Before we managed to sit down for an interview, Josh (such a polite guy...) asked how I had heard of him. Well, that in itself is a pretty funny story.
This may sound like a really high-aiming dream, but it's one I've sort of always had. I've always wanted to have the title of “Top 20 Under 20”. You may of heard of the title before, (maybe a top under 30 or 40), but it's a pretty simple one to understand if you haven't. Pretty much, you've excelled in relation to others your age in a variety of possible fields, be it science, charity, the arts, or business, among many other options. I was bored one fine evening, and quite frankly decided to look at “my competition”, or what I was up against. It was Josh's write up that caught my eye right away, and it was for a pretty random reason that I was drawn to it. His bow tie. He had a massive bow tie on, and I thought it was absolutely amazing. It reminded me of Bill Nye the Science Guy for some reason. I figured I may as well look into this guy, after all, one of my dreams was always to go into art history when I'm older. His work I saw on his website was amazing, I decided I would try to meet him. An email was sent, an email received, and I was invited down.
Nice sign, Josh! Photo by Victoria Alexander
When I arrived at the gallery in Stoney Creek, I faced an odd problem. I had no idea how to get into the place. I did what I thought was the best idea, and called the phone number at the end of his emails to see what I should do. I was surprised when it wasn't him who answered, but his dad. I'd never had to deal with the parents of people I've interviewed, but then again, I'd never interviewed someone my age. The phone was passed to Josh, and laughing, he went to the window and pointed my way in. What a way to first meet. After meeting Mrs Tiessen and looking at some amazing art done by Josh, I sat down in a very comfy armchair, and, well, you know the story of what he first asked me, how I knew him. But my first question for him was completely different. I was really curious about him being born in Russia, and asked if his family was of Russian descent. Nope. His parents were professors there, while at the same time doing some humanitarian type work based out of the city Krasnodar, if I heard him right, by the Black Sea.
Josh stayed in Russia until the age of six, back when I was strapping seven year old, but while I was making my way through life at Bonaventure Public School, it was in Russia that a certain Russian nanny started noticing something in the young Josh, he was enraptured in art. She held up stuffed animals and would teach the young artist lessons on perspective and dimensions, with his parents smiling to the side, I would take the nanny's lessons with a bit of a smile too, Josh was only a young boy after all. By this time in my life, I had already won a Tim Hortons art contest for colouring really, really well in the lines. I won ten dollars, so take that Josh.
Josh then left Russia to settle down about two hours from where I was, but again, what are the chances we would meet? Around the age of ten, I moved to the country-esque community of Ingersoll, Ontario, the place I would call home until university. Josh on the other hand joined a youth club, sort of like an after school program. While doodling on a name tag, he was noticed by a local artist by the name of Valarie Jones, who felt that Josh may of had some special talents. She asked the Tiessen family if there would be any interest in her mentoring Josh for a bit after school, once a week, so she could pass on some of her knowledge to the young artist. They agreed, and since Josh was home-schooled, there was some freedom in his schedule. It worked out perfectly. She would never touch his work, only teach some side lessons or give one or two words of advice along the way. During this time, he was introduced to acrylic paint and canvas, the medium he would stick to for the rest of his career.
Josh Tiessen and his art, by Victoria Alexander
So, as I said, I've always had a huge interest in art history. I'm a big fan of some of the artists who rose to prominence in the French Revolution such as Jacques-Louis David and Eugène Delacroix, and I've been blessed enough to see some of both of their works in person at the Louvre, in Paris. But this is about Josh, so I thought it best to ask who some of his inspirations were. I was happy to hear Canadian painter Robert Bateman was up there on his list, because I knew that those two have had the chance to work together. When Josh would visit his grandfather, he would flick through a book of Bateman paintings that was kept on the coffee table there. With these in mind, Josh himself would work on nature paintings. Then, some started telling him that his work even reminded them of Bateman's. Well, as Josh told me, it could of just been family and friends saying that to make him feel good. Regardless, he took their advice and sent an email to Bateman, with some of his work attached. Not only did he received a reply, he also received an invitation. The famed painter invited Josh, only 15 at the time, to British Colombia for a week to study under him. It was what Josh called “an amazing experience”, and I bet it was! He had his work critiqued, and some pointers or advice given. One of them being that Josh should be upping his price for his work. Well, when someone like Bateman tells you that, you should probably listen.
Now, I've had many crazy job aspirations over the years, but I think Josh had me beat. He had two, a painter, or a NBA player. After his first art exhibit though, he realized maybe art was the route for him, and “looking back at [my] chances at the NBA, for a short, white kid, well, they were next to zero.” His first show, arranged by Valarie but prepared by Josh, was a success. It was at the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington, and the first painting sold was surprisingly to a nurse, someone he didn't even know. That, Josh told me, made it seem all the better.
I mean, I feel that the hospital show would be amazing. But sometime afterwards, Josh heard of an online contest for young artists. You were to submit an image of a piece of art online, and try to earn as much votes as possible. The top-voted pieces would be judged, and the three winners after judging would be put on display at the National Art Gallery of Canada. Josh, highly surprised, told me that he had been one of the paintings displayed, one of the greatest experiences he's had. CBC picked up on this, and reported about the winners. But another media source would help propel Josh's career, without really knowing it. That was the Huffington Post, with their article “10 Art Prodigies You Should Know” published July 27th, 2012. Josh, and some of his work, was listed in the article, but Josh had never referred to himself by the title “prodigy”. For those that may not know a prodigy, under one definition, is “a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional abilities”, which could be anywhere from music to math, or, of course, in art.
The Tiessen family received a phone call from a professor researching prodigies who said she was based down in Ohio State University. She called to say she believed Josh was in fact an art prodigy, and wanted to come down to do some tests to find out for sure. After checking out her credentials, they invited her up and, as Josh told me, he's not really sure how, but in her time here she deduced that he was in fact a prodigy in art. But not just that, it was also deduced that he brother, a year younger than Josh, who excelled in music, was a music prodigy. He felt sort of weird having the title, but it did help spread his name as an artist, so it had it's benefits. Now him and his brother, Zac, are part of a study of 24 prodigies to track down just where some of these skills may have come from.
Josh and I chatting in the studio gallery (Mr Tiessen in background!)
Photo by Victoria Alexander
Josh and I only had a short time together, but I had to ask one massive question before I left. See, I can't sit still for more than five minutes unless I have music playing (right now it's Young Forever by Jay Z feat. Mr Hudson), and I had to know, does Josh listen to music while painting? I would hope so! He paints about 8-10 hours a day, I would need at least something. He laughed and said of course he does, he loves it. Before he thought it would be a distraction, but now it helps block out all the little outside noises of a house, which I fully understand. But then, he one-upped me. He also occasionally listens to books, debates or lectures. Now that's dedication. It ranges from lectures to electronic pop, fair enough I guess.
Next week, Josh will be down in Arizona for his first ever international art show, the the Tempe Center of Arts are part of the International Guild of Realism, in which he's their youngest member. That's pretty impressive in my books. It was great driving down and meeting Josh, and even cooler when he brought up the fact that he read my interviews before me coming, made me glad to hear.
Ever polite, as we were leaving, Josh apologized for realizing he wasn't wearing any socks (it's your house man, no worries), and laughed about what his mom called his duck feet. I know it may be random to add that last part, but I mean, those NBA teams may want to know about that before scouting the only known male art prodigy in North America, Josh Tiessen.
Josh and I in front of "Glimmer of Hope"
Photo by Victoria Alexander
If you would be interested in seeing some of Josh's work... check out his website: http://www.joshtiessen.com/!