It's all in the genes
Science, art present wild mixture of form
By Michelle C. Boyle
Dr. Hunter O'Reilly can be proud of her accomplishments. As a recent doctoral
graduate in genetics, O'Reilly has been able to shed the proverbial white lab coat
in favor of an artist's smock and put her scientific knowledge on canvas. Radioactive
Biohazard, an appropriate name for O'Reilly's art exhibit, is the culmination of
years of work in the science lab and pure artistic talent.
This seemingly incongruous match of science and
art came together for O'Reilly during a trip to Europe when she had the opportunity
to study painting by 20th century masters like Kandinsky, Picasso and Miro. O'Reilly
herself is not what is stereotypically thought of when you hear "genetic scientist."
She is an energetic, 29-year-old with an incredible sense of modesty.
Although O'Reilly is her married name (her maiden name is Gale Hunter), this talented
young woman obviously has ancestors hailing from the Emerald Isle, as evidenced by
her mane of gorgeous red hair. O'Reilly is fifth-generation Irish, with a mix
of German and other ancestry whose ancestors settled in San Francisco in the 1800s.
She and her fiancee, Robert O'Reilly, relocated to Madison to pursue graduate school.
Accepted at different institutions around the country, they selected Madison because
it was the best university that accepted both of them in their fields of study.
Robert O'Reilly attended law school at UW-Madison and recently opened offices
on Milwaukee's South Side and in Racine. His mother is a Flanagan, so there is enough
Irish to go around, laughed his artist/scientist wife. The couple now lives in Cudahy,
Wisconsin. They plan on visiting Ireland soon, perhaps even on a whirlwind art tour.
Radioactive Biohazard has unavoidably strong overtones of the increasingly
prominent hot topic of debate: human cloning. O'Reilly hoped that someday human cloning
would be possible.
O'Reilly said, "The term 'clone' is negative in itself. Even though
human clones would have identical DNA, they would still have a unique soul."
O'Reilly thought that in the future couples which
are unable to have children would have the opportunity to raise a DNA clone of themselves
as a child. Yet she cautioned, "This child would be raised as a son or a daughter
-- not as a sibling."
When asked if she would like a clone of herself, only with black hair instead,
O'Reilly laughed. "I can't even see myself having kids yet!," she
O'Reilly hoped to dispel any negative, preconceived ideas about human cloning
through her artwork. Radioactive Biohazard includes several large oil paintings
interpreting what it means to clone humans and all the positive attributes O'Reilly
believed would come with it. In a colorful, whimsical painting entitled Madonna con
Clon; O'Reilly explained how she was depicting "the loving relationship of a
mother and her human cloned child and the uniqueness of each."
In the eye-catching Art of Death piece, O'Reilly enlarged a series of electron
micrographs of dangerous viruses like Ebola and HIV. In glorious color, and illuminated
from behind by neon lighting, it's hard to believe something so dreaded can be so
Recently, at the Walker's Point Center for the Arts, a fellow art observer, Sarah
Aumann, an Inter-Arts major at UW-Milwaukee, explained her reaction to O'Reilly's
unique work as "an interesting combination of science and neon and plastic.
I have really never seen anything like this before."
This was the reaction O'Reilly was hoping for from her controversial, exciting
artwork. At the exhibit, O'Reilly confessed, "This is my first showing
of an exhibit with such a strong statement. It's fine with me if people disagree
with my work and want to open up a debate." Her goal, she said, was to
just get "people thinking."
Quietly confident in her work, O'Reilly is even comfortable with the possibility
that some people might not appreciate her work.
"Maybe I'll even get people angry, but that's all right. The worst response
for an artist is apathy."
Apathy was the last thing O'Reilly has to worry about. Wherever she goes there
is certain to be a stir of excitement. It's not everyday that you meet someone
who seamlessly marries the discipline of science with the creativity of art.
If You Go
Dr. Hunter O'Reilly's art exhibit, Radioactive Biohazard, is being shown at the Walker's
Point Center for the Arts, 911 W. National Ave, Milwaukee, 53204. Call 414-672-2787.
The exhibit will run through June 2, with gallery hours from 1 to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday.
The project was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds
from the State of Wisconsin; CAMPAC; the Puffin Foundation; and the UWM Cultures
and Communities Program.