John O'Reilly, ‘French Greek Youth 1.1.16’, 2016, Hosfelt Gallery

Drawing freely upon images from art history, magazines, vintage photographs, and everyday materials, John O’Reilly (America, 1930-present) constructs intimate, poetic montages that examine issues of self, beauty, love, death, art, and artifice. O’Reilly’s masterful collages present a strangely malleable, dream-like realm where the past, present, and future co-exist, and in which history and fantasy intertwine and are indistinguishable. Seamlessly combining imagery from a variety of disparate sources, O’Reilly creates daring juxtapositions that are both inexplicably logical and uncannily apt.

This work features the silhouetted profile of the “Marathon Boy,” a celebrated Late Classical Greek sculpture. Given form through O’Reilly’s meticulous, black paper cutout, the figure calls to mind traditional associations of pristine Ancient Greek marbles, as well as the casting process by which the bronze “Marathon Boy” was made. Though from a distance, the work appears to be an elegant, unproblematic depiction of this Classical sculpture, upon closer inspection—as is typical of O’Reilly’s work—it becomes clear that this piece contains numerous contradictions.

Colorful scribbles (torn from a coloring book from the 1940s) disrupt the quiet restraint of the Greek figure, as does the diagrammatic sketch of an eye on grid-lined notebook paper. The disproportionate size and identifying labels both subvert the measured beauty of Greek sculpture, and add another dimension to it though the reference to academia.

The eye, a repeated motif in O’Reilly’s work, as well as Basquiat’s and Rath’s, can either speak to the importance of intimate introspection in order to come to know oneself—a reading supported by the contemplative, downward tilt of the head—or serve as a jarring image of someone else watching and observing us…

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