Patrick O’Reilly’s energy and versatility are evident. There’s his carved ash ‘Emmental Table’, the tabletop-shaped slice of Swiss cheese, his abstract oil on canvases, a sculpture called ‘Rush Hour’ made from scissors, the small, playful bronze bear sculptures, the big ‘Bear’ at Adare Manor, or his ‘Thorn’ sculpture at Carton House. O’Reilly’s energy and versatility are evident.
For Kilkenny-born O’Reilly, “my childhood upbringing in the countryside has seeped into my work. I have used the symbols of haystacks, farm implements, pitchforks and buckets.” Boarding at Mungret College “allowed me the facility to develop my thoughts” and he believes that “the presence of art in a young person’s life gives a sharp sense of knowledge, observation and foundation. It pulls forth ideas into reality as in drawing water from a well.”
A scholarship to Art College in Belfast “was a wonderful experience for learning but with the political situation being so volatile, there were some unpleasant dilemmas.” He now lives and works mostly in Madrid and Venice, but is “very much at heart an Irish artist”.
In Broken Heart, a new work in resin, plastic binding and bronze staples, O’Reilly draws on the Japanese practice, Kintsugi, or ‘golden repair’, an art form that embraces flaws and imperfection.
How difficult, counter-intuitive, was it to make, then break, an art work and put it together again? “It went against normal logic. Making ‘Broken Heart’ was a violent exercise but somehow redemptive.” It began with a drawing. “Everything I do begins with a pencil.” He then made the original and “smashed it into random pieces, reassembled the objects back together. The bronze staples which are then inserted are symbolically and purposely stronger and more resilient than the material the heart is made from.”
For O’Reilly, “the deeper philosophy of the Kintsugi art form is that it has the symbolism of life’s events of the object rather than the cause of its destruction. Like pottery, we all endure bumps along the way. The scars of the heart and the repaired cracks have a strength and beauty in themselves and need not be hidden.”
This ‘Broken Heart’ tells us that broken hearts do mend. Made during the pandemic, “the incubation and casting of work is a lengthy process and some of the works have a very direct relationship with the devastating effects of Covid-19.” Art, says O’Reilly, is “storytelling through images” and “though some of my work is abstract, all of the pieces tell a story, generally of the human condition: loneliness, hopelessness, isolation and desperation. But there are many stories too reflecting on redemption and recovery. Sometimes I disguise these melancholic subjects with humour.”
In 2021 O’Reilly will unveil two gigantic bronze public sculptures in Dublin on behalf of the Ronan Group. Working big, working small? “Every piece is important to me. Whether you dominate the piece or the scale of the piece dominated you – these are two very different experiences.”
But if he had to choose a ‘signature’ work? “The small bears. To my surprise and for some reason my bears appear to have an enduring appeal. I am so grateful that they have given so much pleasure. The bears may appear playful and happy but really they represent something quite different. It is my belief that art should be an uplifting experience so my message may be well disguised.”
‘Kintsugi’, new work, by Patrick O’Reilly at Gormley’s Fine Art, 27 Frederick Street, Dublin, February 1 to 28