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.

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.