Tuesday, October 18, 2011

John O'Reilly and Marsden Hartley: Two Kindred Spirits

John O'Reilly

Marsden Hartley

Two Kindred Spirits

Curated by Trevor Fairbrother

October 14 - November 15, 2011

Opening Reception: Friday October 14th 6 - 8pm

Howard Yezerski Gallery is pleased to present Two Kindred Spirits, an exhibition of new photomontages by John O'Reilly, which will be hung with drawings by the American modernist Marsden Hartley, opening Friday October 14th. Trevor Fairbrother, the guest curator, has selected over twenty pictures by O'Reilly, which will be displayed alongside eleven works from the Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection of Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, Maine.

O'Reilly's photomontages, like traditional collages, are unique works of art. Often intricate and labor-intensive, they combine fragments from diverse sources, joined together as a new visual statement. Some passages in a given work by O'Reilly shift seamlessly from one element to the next, while others jar the viewer with their quick and sometimes astonishing juxtapositions. His source materials include images cut from magazines and books as well as an array of photographs he has taken, in the studio or out of doors.

All manner of mythological figures and art historical personages crop up in O'Reilly's art, as do historical figures, including the dancer Nijinsky and the artists Dürer, Eakins, and Picasso. Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) became the focus of a new series in 2008. O'Reilly's interest in him was two-fold. First there was the exceptional art, which ranged from lively, cubist-inflected abstractions made in Germany in the 1910s to the stark and exhilarating views of Maine's rugged terrain, produced in later life. Second, there was the biography of the man himself, who, despite his pioneering connections with such avant-gardists as Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Stein, had an ultimately distressing trajectory. Hartley died poor, solitary, and closeted; he asked that his last remaining drawings be given to the museum in Lewiston, his birthplace. Since the late 1970s he has been admired not only as a pioneer modernist but also as a bravely original artist who articulated an attraction to the male body in some of his work.

A number of O'Reilly's new works feature his photographs of the giant rocks in the wilderness of Dogtown, an abandoned community on the outskirts of Gloucester, Mass. Hartley, who painted there in 1931 and 1934, wrote "[Dogtown] is forsaken and majestically lonely, as if nature had at last formed one spot where she can live for herself alone." In some of his photomontages O'Reilly brings together an artistic family for himself; in others he imagines a place where he can be with kindred spirits. Hartley embodies for him a New England soul who embraced the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau and the upright fearlessness of Lincoln. Hartley and O'Reilly share a passion for the inner dialogue. They seek to reconcile the trials of life with the dreams and ideals evoked by art, literature, and systems of faith and worship.

John O'Reilly has lived and worked in Worcester, Mass., since 1964. His art has been appeared in many solo and group shows in North America including the 1995 Biennial Exhibition of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Nine years ago the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Mass., hosted a retrospective of his work in conjunction with Klaus Kertess's notable monograph John O'Reilly: Assemblies of Magic (Twin Palms Publishers, 2002).  His work is in numerous public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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