Stanzie Tooth: Memory Garden
Writing by Mona Philip

In Stanzie Tooth’s Memory Garden paintings, nature is nurture; it is a composite construct, derived from the artist’s acquired knowledge, remembered experience, and art historical reference. Vividly detailed in bright colour ink, flowering bushes and lush foliage engulf solitary or coupled figures. Zooming in on bare feet or panning out over interlaced bodies, the compositions resonate with Botticellian allegory and Romantic melancholy. Distant horizons may shimmer in the background, unattainable. Black and white tones systematically disrupt the colour dominance as if unknown disturbances were causing transmission failure, unsettling the idyll. These shifts define the edges of reclining characters, stretched-out limbs, or ghostly absences, separating them from their surroundings. Undaunted, vegetation still seeps through the permeable borders. Like looming shadows whose corporeality is uncertain, the figures are one with nature yet distinct, foreground and background, protagonist and decor collapsed into one.

Extending from previous investigations into the uncertainty of individuality destabilized by motherhood, Tooth’s new works follow the self’s meanderings between inner and external worlds, seeking to redefine identity within relationality and to reconcile contradictory yearnings for solitude and connection. At the same time, Tooth critically scrutinizes the art history canon, striving for ways to depict landscape that counter traditional approaches. Whereas the history of painting reveals a tendency to subdue nature to human narratives, projections and dominance, she pursues unity, as out of reach as it may seem.

Growing up in rural Ontario, Tooth acquired an empirical understanding of the land. Her paintings attempt to recover this lost relationship and sense of belonging. The flora she depicts stems from memory and intimate acquaintance, manifesting the artist’s psyche as much as botanical reference. Equally enchanting and ominous, this imagined scenery promises solace yet threatens to overwhelm. Ink meticulously shapes Tooth’s figure-in-the-landscape scenes one indelible mark after another, releasing a latent obsessiveness. Details tenaciously accrue over the paper’s surface, culled from remembered vistas, diaristic observations, or artistic allusions. Familiarity quickly succumbs to estrangement, as disquiet gnaws at the fragile edges of domesticity. The limitless outdoors feels as tightly contained as Édouard Vuillard’s claustrophobic interiors, where characters dissolve into the textures of their décor, inescapably one with the confines of their home. Though we belong to nature, with bodies and consciousness contained by porous boundaries, our entrapment in isolation endures.

Guilt and foreboding haunt the Memory Garden; return to Arcadia may prove impossible. We have pushed our ecosystem to the brink and trapped ourselves in a sense of separateness of our own making, building both literal and imagined separation walls to hold us apart. Nevertheless, longing calls in alienating loneliness, compelling us to look for beauty and nurturing in the natural world around us. Therein, perhaps, lies the hope for reunion and redemption.

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