Morality Tales: Mary Porterfield and Kathy Weaver at Firecat Projects by Bruce Thorn

Kathy Weaver

Morality Tales: Mary Porterfield and Kathy Weaver
Firecat Projects
2124 N. Damen Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
February 24 – March 18, 2017

It is noteworthy when both artists involved in a double exhibition successfully compliment each other. Firecat Projects has made a perfectly coherent match with Mary Porterfield and Kathy Weaver. Both artists explore issues of morality within an intimate and unpretentious format of eleven by fourteen inches. Each of Weaver’s acrylic paintings illustrates one story from Aesop’s fables while Porterfield confronts moral dilemmas encountered as a veteran health care worker. Both artists offer figurative and narrative fantasy works which they enlist towards the general task of self-discovery.

Kathy Weaver’s series of acrylic paintings present scenes of stylized, cartoonish and imagined characters or “cyborgs.” Weaver gets up close and personal, as if she’s part of the party in a rabbit hole of fantastic dreams that just aren’t Kansas. Candy-colored landscapes are populated by mechanical toys and creatures that act out Aesop’s mini-dramas as sci-fi game versions of issues confronted while watching contemporary news feeds. Some of the characters extend beyond the picture boundary as if they have the ability to jump out and pull you into these mad-cappers’ games.

It’s easy to see a correlation between Weaver’s paintings and the visual puns and metaphors found in works by Peter Brueghel and Hieronymus Bosch. Kathy’s paintings set up similar stages and acts while working with the eye of an educated outsider artist, armed with a painter’s repertoire of stylization and techniques derived more from an illustrator’s bag of tricks than from any oil painting member of a European Renaissance guild. She spent years of her youth in rural Indiana Amish environments and is at home with crafts, quilting bees and such. There is a comfortable, folksy flavor to Weaver’s carefully composed dream worlds.

Kathy Weaver

Kathy Weaver, The Wind and the Sun, 2016, acrylic on panel, 11″x14″

Mary Porterfield offers pastel and charcoal drawings of scenarios involving caregivers, helpers, the infirm, the helpless and the aged. Porterfield has worked as an occupational therapist for two decades and has come to reflect upon questions about the heroism and futility involved. She challenges her own moralistic and religious contradictions about selfless giving. Fabricated situations are presented completely within the picture frame. Nothing extends beyond the stage spotlights except for the colored backgrounds. Trying to honestly and fearlessly come to terms with surrounding dilemmas, she steps back and removes herself a bit to observe these one act tragedies from a professional and emotionally-safe distance. Getting this right at such a diminutive scale is no small accomplishment. Hands are correctly foreshortened from every possible angle. Heads and bodies are convincing. Line work is carefully executed.

These particular works of Porterfield’s begin on white paper. Edge to edge backgrounds cover each with nuanced blends of orange and yellow pastels. Figures and objects are drawn with charcoal, all gray with some black. Porterfield admits to using obvious symbolism with choices of colors and characters. In terms of color choice, this is probably more effective as a game strategy than as literal reading. Metaphors are more obvious with her choices of creatures and objects, but it’s the charcoal-drawn human figures that steal one’s attention from the assortment of symbolic turtles, alligators, shark fins and bird skeletons.

Mary Porterfield is known as an oil painter of complex visionary landscapes. The new works created for Morality Tales are a pared down, introspective departure from those complex, crowded compositions. Still, nothing about these drawings looks as if it would be easy. Porterfield’s drawings come off as refreshingly accomplished figurative studies lacking in pretentiousness or self-importance. The situations are imaginative and thought provoking, the figures strike daring poses, and there is more focus in terms of subject matter, composition and color than in the earlier paintings.

If you are looking for big flashy objects you might go elsewhere. Porterfield and Weaver create small, thoughtful works for those of us who enjoy taking time with paintings and drawings up close like a book.

Mary Porterfield

Mary Porterfield, The Guardian’s Watch, 2016, charcoal and pastel on paper, 11″x14″

Mary Porterfield

Mary Porterfield, The Weight of the Carry, 2016, charcoal and pastel on paper, 11″x14″

More on Mary Porterfield:

More on Kathy Weaver:

Top Image: Kathy Weaver, The Tortoise and the Other Birds, 2016, acrylic on panel, 11″x14″


Bruce Thorn earned a B.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1975 and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1987. He has maintained a vibrant art practice throughout his life. His works have been exhibited in the United States, Czechoslovakia, Canada and the Netherlands.