Stephanie Wilde: “Paramnesia” at Stewart Gallery

BOISE, ID

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“Cassandra II,” 2016, Stephanie Wilde, Ink, acrylic and gold leaf, 26″ x 38″
Photo: courtesy Stewart Gallery

For over 30 years, Boise artist Stephanie Wilde has focused her paintings on a range of societal issues, from the AIDS epidemic to indictments of corporate greed and the gap between rich and poor. Self-indulgence, arrogance, prejudice and environmental denial are frequent targets. Her informed blend of mythology, symbology and cultural history, so enticingly rendered in acrylic, ink and gold leaf, belies the moral outrage within. For despite appearances, this is an art of cultural despair. Wilde’s current exhibit is comprised of nine large works in two parts. Four of the pieces are an introduction to what is projected to be an extended series titled Murder of the Crows. Five are from another series, The Golden Bees. We have, in essence, a double entendre, simultaneously addressing environmental and political issues seen through Wilde’s critical eyes.

Paramnesia is a disorder of the memory, which is the central theme of Crows. Historically, large flocks of these noisy, mischievous birds were seen as symbolizing a herd mentality that is the antithesis of independent thought and judgment. It is the collective loss of memory of past consequences, recurring periods of intellectual poverty that have relevance to our own time. Wilde’s quotes from Greek and Egyptian mythology are the personifications of her worldview with three Greek goddesses representing female consciousness and mother earth, entities under assault. Daphne II, Cassandra II and Ophelia are sister metaphors for the cause and effect of paramnesia in terms of mankind’s refusal to take the environmental crisis seriously, perennially dismissing the warnings of scientists, educators and intellectuals generally as the rantings of self-styled elites.

Although the center of attention, these figures have stylized, wan countenances suggesting calm resignation. Their demeanor reinforces their symbolic and metaphoric rather than individual attributes. Enveloping and consuming the subjects are elaborate tapestries of entwined leaves, flowers and vines that have particular relevance for each. Tears of Ra is a work that segues into Golden Bees. Ra was the Egyptian sun god, who is portrayed here weeping tears of bees in accordance with the belief that they bring messages to man. Implicating the potential extinction of the Western honey bee, along with its unique role in our ecosystem, Wilde has given them an iconic status, particularly in Queens, Drones, and Workers and on the hexagonal black plaques with emblematic victims in gold leaf. Taken all together, it is an art of mourning.

—CHRISTOPHER SCHNOOR