text by Jenna Faye Powell
Where is the best place to be introspective? When picturing meditative grounds, thoughts of the sublime are easily conjured — mountain-scapes with rolling fog, the sun peaking through scattered clouds. Add a crisp breeze and a smooth, rounded boulder for seating. You know what you’re supposed to do: sit and think. Stare at the sunset and take deep breaths. In this ease your relationship with land and place is simple and gratifying.
But even in the most serene of settings, it’s easy to be distracted. The mind may wander to the less important — a quote from an old sitcom pops into your head; did you leave the garage door open? With the scene perfectly set to contemplate deep existential questions, sometimes epiphanies will still refuse to take shape. Other times revelations will come to you in a packed elevator, lineup at the bank, or on the commute home. There is no perfect setting for reflection, and in the case of Stanzie Tooth, learned knowledge of self and place have been amassed over years of travel, and are now solidified in plaster, felt, and pigment — a product itself of an inventive, nomadic process.
Stanzie Tooth’s exhibition Coming Home presents autobiographical explorations into the complex relationship between figure and ground, specifically exploring how both person and place can permeate and change one another.
Slated as her homecoming exhibition, the artist returns from Berlin, after living and working there since winning the Joseph Plaskett Painting Award in 2015. The artist’s travels have prompted inquires into self-reflection, and the weight of place in establishing identity. Growing up in rural Southern Ontario, the Tooth uses a lexicon of paired-down symbols of trees, clouds, rivers, to amend and update traditional landscape painting techniques dictated by old European masters. Through her travels, Stanzie further complicates the relationship between self and place, by asking what it means to simultaneously be a foreign body and a porous one.
Stanzie’s figures have evolved to be less distinct — their outlines blurred, and their postures relaxed. Blending into the background, they appear content and contemplative, becoming both container and containee. Protagonist and backdrop. In doing so, they willingly share the spotlight and compositional duties, resulting in a surreal harmony of painted and poured elements. A rock and a shadow can hold the same weight as the sun and moon. Knowing Stanzie’s nomadic background, it can be posited that the artist intrinsically values land as a tool of measurement — mountains act as comforting landmarks and trees as markers to the ocean. The famous idiom, “like the back of my hand” signifies knowing something inherently, to feel pride in the depth you understand something. This idiom is frequently applied to hometowns roads or frequently-hiked trails. Works in Coming Home poetically suggest pride and comfort in becoming synonymous with place, knowing an environment or landscape so well that it feels like one of your limbs.
In contrast to her past projects, patterned-textiles have been brought to the forefront. Acting as a type of green-screen, specifics of place are not clearly defined. Viewers are offered imaginative placeholders to imbue histories and perspectives. Defining by negation, the patterned-motifs ambiguously hint at place, but these could be anywhere at anytime. Materially, it’s easy to find parallels between Stanzie’s concepts and processes. Through methods of alchemy, the artist investigates how pressure (literal and figurative) can shape, distort, and obliterate someone or something. This process enables works in Coming Home to feel both heavy and ethereal, like wading through heavy waves. Using autobiographical anecdotes as a platform, works in this exhibition explore the messy, fruitful space between being uprooted and being at home — and considers the question: do you need place to feel truly grounded?