Bear with Bucket

O’Reilly was born in Kilkenny and he says, ‘my childhood upbringing has seeped into my work. I have used the symbols of haystacks, farm implements, pitchforks and buckets’. He sculpts the quintessential memories of childhood - the suggestion of seaside and sandcastles. The Bear with Bucket strides out determinedly, his bucket swinging behind him. The set of the swinging arms and down-turn of the chin represent the determination of the bear who is both a whimsical and comical image with his extra-large feet and tufty eyebrows.

In Bear with Bucket, O’Reilly has taken an idea from reality but imbued the animal form with emotional content that reflects elements of the human condition, such as loneliness and comfort. His work contemplates ‘the journey of life and the emotions of failure, abandonment, rejection, shame and betrayal that are experienced along the way… Often, we try to avoid experiences that leave us vulnerable to these feelings and we often feel flawed, or not good enough… I reflect on lived experiences, the minor bumps and scrapes and more serious events that life throws at us.’

The bear is an enduring image of an endearing part of childhood and represents childhood as an imagined or real memory. It gives the suggestion of comfort and nurture, of non-judgement and security. The bear is coming apart at the seams but is held together by staples, suggesting the repairs to childhood toys which do not alter their value in the eyes of the child but became part of it, unnoticed, and still loved. With this O’Reilly is playing with the Japanese concept of Kintsugi in which the breaks become an integral and stronger part of the piece itself. The wounds shape the person but ultimately make them stronger and the adult is shaped by the knocks received from childhood onwards. The bear is suggestive of the resilience of childhood – a child falls but gets back up again and again.

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About the Artist

Patrick O’Reilly was born in Kilkenny and studied at the Belfast School of Art. During his long career, he has achieved international fame for his innovative and dynamically visual works. His work is included in museums and important private collections throughout Ireland, Europe and USA and he has won many awards including the RHA sculpture prize. He has created monumental large-scale public commissions which have allowed his sculptures to become much loved parts of the local landscape. His work can be found all over the world including, a Strolling Bear in Paris and a bear wearing a tutu in Cape Town (Castle of Goodhope, 2004).

O’Reilly’s works are not only philosophical expressions of thoughts and experiences but also act as a reflection of his feelings. His work draws from both classical and Mannerist influences as well as from the imagery of contemporary comic and pop art. The universe he constructs evokes reverie, poetry, history and especially childhood themes through its iconic animal, the teddy bear, which O’Reilly brings back to life with his own sensibility, humour and playfulness. O’Reilly believes that art is ‘Storytelling through images’: ‘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.’

O’Reilly has found inspiration in many places and people including Emily Dickinson, Goya and Bernini. Most recently he has been inspired by the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi which he has incorporated in his sculptures. Thus, breaks and cracks in a sculpture are repaired and he works with an allegorical idea that this becomes integral to the design itself and makes the works more beautiful. The repairs become a physical manifestation of resilience and are visible and not hidden but embraced. The crack becomes stronger than the break and the transformation of a repair (the repaired life) becomes an acceptance of imperfection (in Japanese wabi sabi) and an appreciation of flawed beauty. This carries with it more meaning and penetrates the psyche further than a false construct of perfection. O’Reilly draws comparison between plates and glasses that become chipped or cracked over time and use. ‘I believe that we can deny or attempt to distract from these happenings or we can choose to decide to see these experiences as our golden seams and part of our fabric.’

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