Patrick O’Reilly has a special, even unique place among contemporary Irish sculptors of the young-to-middle-aged generation, and his sheer versatility is as notable as his talent. He is one of those rare artists who can tackle big and small projects with equal verve, can turn out relatively small-scale bronzes of genuine originality and then move to (sometimes quite massive) public commissions. He has no set “style” but undeniably has Style with a capital S, so that the personality is straightaway visible whatever the means or immediate context. In general, he adapts himself to the varying demands of the work on hand. And though this means that the sculptural idioms can sometimes change from one piece to the next, a kind of neo-Baroque energy and panache are infused into all he does.

Patrick O’Reilly has a special, even unique place among contemporary Irish sculptors of the young-to-middle-aged generation, and his sheer versatility is as notable as his talent.

O’Reilly first came to public notice with a one-man exhibition at the Galway Arts Festival, which triggered off much discussion and debate among critics and art-lovers alike. It bordered on conceptualism but defied any stricter definition; it embraced burlesque, grotesque and quasi-surreal elements but also had a kind of fun-fair, knockabout quality all its own. This man, I remember thinking at the time, has ideas to burn. It was followed by an exhibition at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin, which reinforced his reputation. Since then his work has been seen in various group shows and at the Taylor Galleries, the leading non-official venue in Dublin.

O’Reilly’s bronze teddybears and birds were for a time almost as much a trademark as Barry Flanagan’s hares, but unlike the latter sculptor he is not virtually single-track in his imagery. He has created some large outdoor pieces which defy adequate description, he has turned out many spindly, almost sinister figures in bronze, he has experimented strikingly with a kind of clustering, severely abstract wall sculpture which brings back to mind the work of Soto and other Kinetic artists of twenty years ago. He has even, very recently, exhibited a column composed of superimposed sheets of paper—a piece which had a surprising presence. Its bareness and simplicity showed that he could, when he chose, submit to an almost Constructivist discipline.

He works impartially in a range of materials but has a special interest in bronze-casting — a technique on which he sometimes makes very severe demands. At one time he painted a good deal — probably still does for his own pleasure, for all I know — but though his paintings had a strong presence I doubt very much if he sees himself as a painter-sculptor. The confines of a canvas and frame could never satisfy him for long; the innate dynamism and thrust and sheer inventiveness of his mind call out for a wider arena. I can only look forward to further big commissions which will afford him the necessary scope.

— Brian Fallon

Brian Fallon was for 35 years the Art Critic of The Irish Times and was also its literary editor 1977-1988. He has written several books, including a history of Irish culture from 1930 to 1960, and has edited the works of his father, the poet-dramatist Padraic Fallon. He lives with his wife and family in County Wicklow, close to Dublin.