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Art on the Line
by
John Aehl


The Wisconsin State Journal

Sunday, November 22, 1998

Madison, Wisconsin USA


A substantial dose of Miro influence, some Picasso, perhaps a bit of Kandinsky, maybe a dash of Klee, an essence of Chagall. Matisse, too?

Hunter O'Reilly acknowledges her debt to 20th-century famous artists in the development of her own art.

But she wishes to emphasize that her intensely colored semi-abstract paintings have mostly Hunter O'Reilly in them.

One can judge for one's self by taking a look at the 10 oils, four watercolors and five drawings now on the walls of the Sunroom Cafe and Gallery, 638 State St., now through December.

O'Reilly advertises herself as "artist and geneticist." She is working on her doctorate in genetics at UW-Madison, doing research at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.

Most of her paintings are not true abstractions, in that intended figures are discernible among the bold lines and shapes. She paints with bright, bold colors, favoring an iridescent blue.

Her work might be defined as a blend of surrealism, cubism, fauvism and abstract-expressionism, all evolving into post-modernism, which is such a broad term it can include almost any kind of art that doesn't rely on realistic depiction.

O'Reilly, with an attitude of complete confidence and no false sense of modesty, calls her own work "Hunterism," which she says is "post-modern art characterized by the use of a single line or shape to simultaneously define the contours of more than one person or object."

So, follow the winding line in her art.

The people who have looked at O'Reilly's work hanging at the Sunroom have done that, and have liked what they see, according to Mark Paradise, owner of the cafe.

"Our comments book has very good response, nothing but positive things," Paradise said. "Her work is colorful and thoughtful, and I personally am enjoying it a lot. It's contemporary and modern, although reminiscent of Picasso - which isn't really contemporary any longer. But her work has a good feel to it."

O'Reilly already has filled five sketch books with ideas, which, she said, "seems natural for me. I love doing it. Things come from the subconscious, then I look at it and try to think about what it means. When I draw and paint, I see what I see, but other people often say they see something else. That's fine, and depends on their own background and experience. I challenge people to see something differently, and have their own interpretation."

Calling on a happy inclination to laugh, in a throaty voice, at herself, she sees herself primarily as as artist. And she sees her work in genetics as a primary source for her art.

"A lot of the things I do in the laboratory, like tissue-culture work - where you have cells in a mono-layer on a dish - they have a lot of patterns, and different forms, connected to one another. There are also a lot of bright colors, from staining, and many different patterns.

"I get inspiration from that," she said, then paused, reflected, and added, with a husky laugh, "Actually, I get inspiration from everything around me. It's not like copying, though. It's coming from something within me."

She acknowledges that she has a good collection of art books and has pored through them often.

"But it's not really a conscious influence," she said. "It's not like I look at a painting and say to myself I want to imitate it. Oh, maybe occasionally. I got a little but of the influence of how Van Gogh put on paint with his heavy brush strokes. (The technique is called Impasto.)

"Generally, though, the broad inspiration is that I really love their work, and I liked looking at it and analyzing it. But what I do is from within myself."

O'Reilly has been in Madison five years, but has been painting seriously only the last two. A fifth-generation San Franciscan, Gayle Darlene Hunter is a University of California-Berkeley graduate. She met her husband, Robert O'Reilly, in Berkeley.

When she started painting, she decided on Hunter O'Reilly, "a really good, bold name," as a signer.

Her husband, an attorney, is a judicial clerk for a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in South Bend, Ind., such a good job he took it even though it means considerable commuting between the two until she finishes her laboratory graduate work here. She plans to move to South Bend in a few months. They plan on ending up in Washington because her husband wants to be involved in politics.

She became interested in painting about two years ago when she traveled to Paris with her father and saw the art of the masters.

"It really inspired me," she said. "When I came back, I took an art class and started in.

"I remember my husband said, 'Don't think you're going to hang that first oil painting on the wall.' He was trying to be realistic. But the first oil painting I did, he wanted to hang it on the wall. It was a compliment. He wouldn't have done it if he hadn't liked it."

After she had done a number of works, she started applying to show. She has exhibited in South Bend, in the Barnes and Noble Booksellers there. Recently she has been accepted in several places, she said, "so now I have a bunch of shows."

"I have had a lot of positive feedback, which I didn't expect," she said. "I wasn't sure how people would respond to this abstract stuff. I just did what I like, and didn't worry about it."

Comments from the South Bend exhibit included, "Extraordinary beauty and rare form, the best I have seen," and "It looks like Picasso but is still original."

She has sold a few paintings, with prices of $350 to $550, and said, again with a smile and a laugh, "Right now is the time to buy, when they're bargains."

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