Skip to main content

The Undiscovered Country

Seen and Unseen, oil on layered glassine, 20" x 28" (detail)
            "  the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns. "
Hamlet, Act 3, scene 1

In the United States, a country obsessed with youth culture and the eternal postponement of old age, one of the greatest taboos is to talk openly about the aging process and death. In her exhibition at Hofheimer Gallery in Chicago, artist Mary Porterfield bravely depicts some of the adverse effects of aging with a clear-eyed gaze, a skillful hand, and a great degree of compassion.

In these oil paintings on glassine, we see the faces, hands, and bodies of the aged with nothing hidden. Porterfield's brush carefully depicts all the wrinkles, the folds, the sagging of flesh on bones, the pallid skin and the red-rimmed eyes. In many of the paintings we see the same female face, apparently that of the artist's grandmother who experienced memory problems towards the end of her life (she died aged 100). Thus we see a woman lying on the floor, perhaps after suffering a fall. We see a hand gripping a common object such as a spoon, while the other hand grips the wrist to steady it from shaking. The muted colours of the paintings, and the glassy, transparent surface on which they are painted, give the pictures a haunted, floating appearance.

Oil on layered glassine, varied dimensions
The accomplished technique makes our eyes retrace the passage of the artist's hand, recreating the close attention to light on sinew, joint, and bone. It is as if we are looking at moments from a different time, filtered through a sepia-tinted lens. In fact, Porterfield is forcing us to look at a future that awaits all of us, to a greater or lesser degree. What is remarkable about this exhibition is that she finds such beauty in that.

in:dependence continues at Hofheimer Gallery, 4823 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, until September 28th, 2019.

Comments

  1. Terrific little piece about Marys work please uput me on your email list ty!mcnelle15@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Such thoughtful and important and compelling artworks and intentions. A must see!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A List of Every Drink in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

I first read Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises" when I was a teenager, and immediately fell in love with it. For the last couple of years, I have had the incredible privilege of teaching a class based around Hemingway in Paris -- while living and teaching in Paris itself, close to the Boulevard du Montparnasse, where most of the action of the novel's first half takes place. Of the many things that one notices about the book, the colossal amount of drinking is something that stands out. These people didn't just drink like fish: they drank like whales, as if the ocean they swam in was alcohol and they had set themselves the task of drinking the seas of the world dry of it. During my read-through of the book before class started last year, I tried to underline every mention of drink in the book. And now, purely in the interests of science, I am listing the entire menu of booze mentioned directly by name. Some preliminary observations: Most of

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct. Incised lino block, from me.redith.com Etched lino block, from Steve Edwards A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these d

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times: Image copyright Inhabitat.com and Mary Ellen Croteau Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage . I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.