Story written by Brady Wheeler | Photos provided by Tom Johnson
When wandering the bustling streets of Sedona, it is near impossible to leave without a spiritual trinket to commemorate the journey—at least if you are a tourist. The gem and crystal shops are abundantly unavoidable, tempting passersby with the aura of burning sage and the promise of luminous crystals bearing healing power.
California-based artist Tesa Michaels is in on the trend, but in a fashion that is anything but ordinary.
Tesa’s extraordinary works are on full display at the prestigious Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art, located on Highway 179 in Sedona’s Gallery District. What began in 1996 with only six artists displaying in 1,700 square feet, Exposures is now the home of over 100 artists. Extraordinary oils and wood carvings, glass-adorned bells, jaw-dropping jewelry, stone and bronze sculptures, are merely a few of the media styles that adorn the walls, fill the spaces and decorate the over 20,000 square feet of this breathtaking gallery.
Employing the help of a myriad of precious and semi-precious stones from around the world, Tesa creates theatrical works of art—seamlessly weaving together a gradient of warm oils with an array of glistening gems.
Tesa is a four-time winner in the 2019 American Art Awards, juried by America’s 25 Best Galleries & Museums. She was voted “Most Innovative” artist in the world during the selection process. Her innovation comes from a proprietary method of mounting stones to her paintings, incorporating the likes of Moroccan Geodes, Selenite and Amethyst.
Fittingly, it is the southern beaches of California that greatly inspires Tesa’s works. A Colorado-native turned coastal dweller, she spends her days on the shores dreaming up new ways to create magnificent landscapes in her unique style. Akin to a kaleidoscope, her work often transfixes onlookers with an explosion of color and gleam, expanding into various shapes to create her distinguished natural scenes. Whether it’s vibrant beachscapes or mountain ranges, it is easy to find oneself speechlessly in awe by the amount of detail Tesa conveys in her work.
“I’m inspired by so many things, mostly nature. My paintings primarily focus on landscapes. Skies and sunsets are my favorites; the beautiful colors, how the sky changes from one second to the next reflecting constant changes in colors and energy,” Tesa explained.
While her painting is undoubtedly top-notch, her selection of stones alone is deserving of praise. Before starting a piece, Tesa always spends time connecting with the individual stones and asking herself, “What do I have?” before coming up with an artistic approach. In many of her works, her strategy involves occupying space with both large and small stones to create perspective—using leading lines to bring centerpiece gems to the forefront.
A self-described “lifelong” creator and 4th-generation artist—sharing that the talents of her great-grandfather, grandmother, and her mother, a jeweler, were passed on to her—Tesa practiced in many different mediums throughout her life. Joking that she learned to draw before she could write, Tesa completed her first oil painting at the age of 12. By the age of 17, she was featured in her first national art show.
Tesa went on to attend the Art Institute of Colorado, where she completed her degree in Graphic Design.
Her early career led her to work as an Art Director for a health products company, advertising for J. Walter Thompson and in Art Direction for commercials for the Ford Corporation.
Despite these many accolades, Tesa felt that she had strayed too far from her artistic roots so, she picked up her brushes and returned to oil painting, where she reignited passion. “Art has always been a part of me. It is who I am,” Tesa shared.Her current style of incorporating semi-precious stones began eight years ago with one piece of agate.
After attending a gem show with her jewelry designing/making mother, Tesa returned with that handpicked piece of agate and attached it to an oil painting. The rest is history. “My mom is my sidekick. I would not be here without her,” Tesa said.
Tesa now “frequently draws on the beauty of semi-precious stones,” catapulting her and her unique styles to success.
When asked why she chose Sedona, she told an inspiring story about a flurry of “signs” that led her here. Though many clients would say, “Your work would work so well in Sedona,” it was following a gem show in Tucson when she found herself in a room of a resort. The theme of the room, Sedona.
“After that, I knew it was a calling,” Tesa affirmed.
One of Tesa’s favorite works of art to date is her 4-foot by 8-foot piece “Inner Opulence.” Weighing around 200 pounds, it features pieces of the Earth incorporating thousands of precious and semi-precious stones, including diamonds, agate, quartz, Moroccan geode, and 24k gold leaf. “Inner Opulence” is a part of her “Elements” series, where Tesa draws upon the natural elements of the Earth to manifest her vision into each distinctive creation.
While she is best known for her work in mixed media, she has expanded her style into furniture and installations, as well.
Whatever the works of art may be, whether a landscape or abstract or unique work of functional art, Tesa is always drawing upon the ever-changing beauty of nature.
“I love working with and showcasing the unique beauty found in each semi-precious stone. I hope you enjoy these unique works as much as I enjoy creating them.” ES
To see more of Tesa's work, be sure to visit Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art in Sedona or go online.