Stanzie Tooth: The Distance of the Moon
If you want to know what has become of the work of Stanzie Tooth, the answer can be found in blue.
In blue, you see, there is room. Room for gentle leanings toward green, or purple, or grey; room for the smallest piece of presence or a cascade of inky depth. In blue there is room for the simultaneous advancing and retreat of the colour’s own will and within it the weight of the world. In blue the sky meets the sea and there they come close enough to touch. Blue separates day from night and delineates the earth as a place to stand. In blue there is room for the firmament beneath our feet and “the mind in borrow of the body”. (1)
The works Stanzie Tooth has created for The Distance of the Moon are embodiments in and of blue. If you think when looking upon these things that this landscape painter’s feet might rest more lightly upon the earth than they once did, you would be right. Based out of Berlin since early 2016, and the beneficiary of numerous recent international residencies as the recipient of the 2015 Joseph Plaskett Award, Tooth has been playing the part of a painting nomad. As a result, she has evidently thought a great deal about how paint is collected and carried. This may have begun as an issue in practicality, but practicality—like colour—is an excellent breeding ground for intention. Travel has given Stanzie Tooth’s paintings consciousness of the space within their grasp and movement has increased the span of this painter’s arms. Resolute in their blueness and the room it provides, the paintings in The Distance of the Moon are the orbit of earthly and extraterrestrial. Stanzie Tooth’s year of migration has loosened her ties to a practice of landscape painting that grounded itself in knowing and from within it she has gathered to herself the pleasure of the unknown.
This pleasure is most clearly and literally embedded in the plasters. Intimate in scale and conceived of as individual painting events that converse one with another, the plasters are traps. Each is a bit of alchemy, constructed using an invented process wherein Tooth loses access to the image while the plaster sets. These paintings carry blue on their insides, slowly forming at a cellular level through drying and oxidation, gaining identity at their core and telling small truths on their skins. If the plasters form in the realm of the unseen, it is within the works on canvas that the subtle shifts in the ancestry of Tooth’s painting surfaces are most clearly visible. Absent are the dense thickets of colour and mark that dominated her early landscape paintings. Gone also are the paintings’ overt references to a place she knew best and had tied herself to. The canvases in The Distance of the Moon are delicately tethered. The imagery floats, suspended halfway between one realm and another, depicting what Stanzie Tooth’s eyes see while they open, and while they lay closed. Each canvas contains a single figure, a near constant in her previous work, perhaps as a reminder to all of us and to the artist herself that though her body and mind inhabit a different place on the globe, she is still there. You may perceive in these canvases, awash in the expanse of blue, an underlying wistfulness for the places she used to live. In the context of this observation, the plasters are homiletic. Strangely wise through their evolving, eventual imagery, their sodden surfaces slough off blue’s natural inclination toward melancholy, and teach it instead to dream.
The Distance of the Moon is a title shared with a short story by Italo Calvino. In it, the moon and the earth are so close to one another that trips to the lunar surface are made by boat, providing that travellers can accomplish a choreographed leap from sea to sky at just the right moment. The gesture requires a certain grace and a willingness to abandon attachments in pursuit of what the moon could yield. Successful jumpers harvest the richness of the moon’s surface and enjoy an altered perspective on the earth below, but are subject to the complexities inherent in leaving home. The turn in Stanzie Tooth’s new paintings exemplifies the rewards of a well-timed leap. Her works on canvas are subject to a quiet gravitational pull toward solid ground while those in plaster explore new worlds. “This should give you an idea of how the influences of Earth and Moon, practically equal, fought over the space between them,” Calvino writes. (2) Stanzie Tooth is traversing the room between them. She is doing it in blue.
(1) William Gass, On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (Boston: David R. Godine, 1976), 57.(2) Italo Calvino, “The Distance of the Moon” in The Complete Cosmicomics, trans. M.L. McLaughlin, Tim Parks and William Weaver (London and New York: Penguin Classics, 2009), 10.