Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reviews of Two Kindred Spirits

Two Reviews of John O'Reilly and Marsden Hartley: Two Kindred Spirits came out back to back! If you didn't see them in print, here are the reviews from the Boston Globe and the Boston Phoenix:

From the Boston Globe by Cate McQuaid on Wednesday October 26:

Suffering and vulnerability, mind and body

In 2008, John O'Reilly, a master of graceful and slyly potent photomontage, went to Dogtown--long ago neighborhood of Gloucester, now a woodsy area known for its boulders--to take pictures. He knew that Marsden Hartley, the restless Modernist painter, had spent time in Dogtown in the 1930s. Consequently, O'Reilly, whose works sometimes probe the more bruised stories of cultural history, made his "Dogtown Hartley Series."

Independent curator Trevor Fairbrother has put together "John O'Reilly, Marsden Hartley: Two Kindred Spirits," a moving and provocative exhibit at Howard Yezerski Gallery, that highlights O'Reilly's Dogtown series and other photomontages alongside spare, fevered drawings by Hartley, on loan from the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine.

The boulders play a big part in the works of both artists. Hartley's pen-and-ink drawing depicting Dogtown, "Untitled. Subject: Rock, Walls, Twisted Trees, Blueberry Bushes," sets the big rocks undulating in the middle of a scene buzzing with the tangled lines of foliage and the speckles of grass and berries.

O'Reilly, who breathtakingly shuffles shreds of art-historical imagery and personal narrative, here weaves his own photos of boulders with images of sculptural figures, such as Michelangelo terra cotta in "Dogtown Hartley Series 1/24/09." The figure is not perfectly clear, but you sense a shoulder, a haunch, as man struggles to emerge from stone.

In the forefront of O'Reilly's virtuosically assembled, "Dogtown Hartley Series, 10/29/09," a man--whose legs and feet, clad in ballet slippers, might be from an old photo of Nijinsky, a regular player in this artist's work--lies writhing before a jagged rock face. Above, ancient classical columns stand, fall, and meld seamlessly with the rock; a house topples into a William Morris textile design. A snapshot in a bottom corner captures young men on a dock, two of them shirtless--like the men in many of Hartley's drawings.

That artist's pieta, "Badly Bruised--Who Is He?" shows a small legion of square-shouldered, shirtless men cradling a nearly naked figure. This hangs beside O'Reilly's own "Pieta" from 1995, in which the artist holds a naked Christ.

O'Reilly, who is in his early 80s, is gay, and he threads his work with homoerotic references borrowed from everything from Renaissance painting to porn. Hartley is thought to have been gay and closeted, and he certainly celebrated the brawn of the male body.

What Hartley here expresses in deft, simple, electric line drawings, and O'Reilly in lush photomontages, is the same: the suffering of flesh and psyche, the pain of sacrifice and a mystical expression of vulnerability.

From the Boston Phoenix by Greg Cook on Tuesday October 25:

In "Two Kindred Spirits" at Howard Yezerski Gallery (460 Harrison Avenue, Boston, through November 15), curator Trevor Fairbrother pairs drawings by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) with John O'Reilly's recent Hartley-inspired collages. O'Reilly is attracted to Hartley's masterly, roughhewn late style, begun in his summers painting the boulder strewn fields of Dogtown in Gloucester in the '30s, as well as his sad end as a lonely, broke, closeted gay man seeking a place for himself in his native Maine. The Hartley drawings, on loan from Bates College, aren't his best, but awkward sketches of fey bare-chested fishermen or a scantily-clad wrestler reveal a heartbreaking longing.  

O'Reilly's Dogtown Hartley Series 10/5/09 features photos of rocky tidal shallows, men fishing, and fragments of stone sculptures of strapping men's torso and legs. The Worcester resident's collages conflate Dogtown, which is inland, with the Maine coast as he fashions energetic off-kilter compositions of rhymed heterogeneous imagery. The result is as elegant (sometimes too elegant) as Hartley's art is brawny. O'Reilly brews a dreamy mood from sensuous, mythic sculptures, rugged landscapes and the flirty pleasures of a holiday at the shore.

Gallery talk this Saturday, October 29th with artist John O'Reilly and curator Trevor Fairbrother at 10:30 am.
Please RSVP to as seating is limited.

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