John O'Reilly: Howard Yezerski Gallery

By Miller, Francine Koslow | Artforum International, September 2004 | Go to article overview

John O'Reilly: Howard Yezerski Gallery


Miller, Francine Koslow, Artforum International


Miniaturist John O'Reilly has been constructing montages since the late '60s, creating photographic tableaux from pictures and props that he reassembles into complex worlds that are always poetic and intimate. The black-and-white Polaroid montages in the series "Panoramas," 2002-2004, average only about four or five inches in height but stretch up to twenty-three inches across, establishing a cinematic space. Using an uncoated film that allows him more time to compose the assemblages, O'Reilly's pasted-together photographs unite allusive narrative in cubistic space. These sixteen works are characterized by dynamic surfaces, meticulous craftsmanship, and an improvisational quality. The seventy-four-year-old O'Reilly, whose themes are art, war, and death, uses a simple vintage camera, scissors, ink, and paste to produce multilayered work.

Many of O'Reilly's favored cast of characters--which includes Britten, Corot, Muybridge, Nijinsky, and Velazquez--crop up again here. He also continues to employ images of his own studio interior and the miscellany of small objects to be found there. His cutout protagonists are often partial, ripped, and torn ghosts of earlier works and are dwarfed by their natural or architectural settings. As the artifice of montage becomes apparent, O'Reilly leaves the studio to weave through forests and gardens, the photographed view from his urban Worcester, Massachusetts, studio as a reminder of quotidian reality. Incongruities of scale and the varying rhythms of light give these panoramas a mythic feel and illusory appearance.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Orpheus Suite," 2002-2003, is dedicated to the mythological poet and musician who, although torn apart by Dionysus's maenads, lives, according to O'Reilly, "in the sound of forests, rivers, winds, and the voice of the arts." O'Reilly mimics Orpheus's fate in six patched-together montages, equating the tranquillity of the forest with the quiet of the studio. In Orpheus Suite #28, 1-26-03, the graceful arm of a dancer (taken from an image of Nijinsky) grows like a branch from a Brueghel painting of a tree (suggesting crucifixion and regeneration) and is transformed into Orpheus. …

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