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Geneticist practices the science of art

ARTWORK COURTESY OF HUNTER O'REILLY

'Peaceful Self-Portrait' is part of an abstract series of paintings by UW-Madison geneticist Hunter O'Reilly.


ARTWORK COURTESY OF HUNTER O'REILLY

O'Reilly said 'Shocked People' demonstrates her expressive, free-form style of painting.

KELLY E. TEMPLER
of the Cardinal staff
March 26, 1998

The chapters of life are so commonly expressed in the form of stories, books, movies, diaries and photographs. Hunter O'Reilly conveys her own experiences and observations through her artwork--our
window to her world.

O'Reilly is a geneticist at UW-Madison. She is currently doing cancer research while working for her Ph.D. After escaping to France for a brief trip last year, she became inspired to begin painting.

"I had all these ideas and pictures in my head, and painting is my way of expressing them," O'Reilly said.

With only the experience of one drawing class and one oil class, O'Reilly went to work.

At the inner core of her art, the themes of life and spirituality surface perpetually in various forms. Following the notion that people perceive things in many different ways, she uses a single line, shape or color to define more than one person or object, which she refers to as "Hunterism."

In other words, two images in one--similar to M.C. Escher, though the two are very stylistically different, as O'Reilly is a lot more abstract in her work.

Picasso, Kandinsky and Miró are especially inspiring artists for O'Reilly. Kandinsky, like O'Reilly, began painting later in life. He was a gifted writer and a student of law and economics. He did not follow his artistic vision until his 30s. O'Reilly's life somewhat mirrors that pattern. It was not until a year ago that she followed her vision.

"I have a very powerful drive to paint and to do art. I think that's my purpose in life. It's meant to be," she said.

Images seen through the microscope also influence many of her works. Different abstract-shaped cell forms inspire the art. Although many consider science a highly structured field when compared to art, O'Reilly finds them complementary.

"Once you stop memorizing formulas and you go beyond, trying to discover new formulas or new forms of life, the creative process begins," she said.

O'Reilly's painting "Shocked People" represents how lines and colors take on more than one form. From some angles the faces seem shocked and from other perspectives they look as if they are about to speak.

The outlines were not added until the end when O'Reilly felt there needed to be something a little more distinct.

"I sketched and chose the colors first and when I was done with the painting I analyzed it and asked myself, 'what do I see?'" she said.

Through this process, O'Reilly creates the titles of her art.

"Peaceful Self-Portrait," seen on the front page, reflects the many different inspirations in O'Reilly's personal life. The abstract shapes stem from the sight of different cell formations and the woman in the drawing represents O'Reilly.

The bright green object supporting the woman in the picture is representative of the role her husband has taken on since she began painting.

"My husband and I are very close. He has supported me and helped me and I think that this picture is somewhat representative of that," she said.

O'Reilly is always on the verge of creation, whether scientifically or artistically. Her paintings capture life as we know it and life beyond what we know.

The "Abstract Faces Series" is on display at Studio Z, 6025 Monona Drive, through April 9. For more information, call 221-7888.

Selections from O'Reilly's "Abstract Faces Series" are also displayed on the World Wide Web at The Renaissance 2001 Group Exhibition website at http://r2001.com and O'Reilly's award-winning site at http://www.artbyhunter.com/media/hunter.html

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