Patrick O’Reilly’s life-size bronze sculpture, Doll, has a cleverly kitsch, playful feel which is characteristic of much of his work. The doll’s head is too large for her neat, slim body and this gives a disconcerting and humorous Alice in Wonderland vibe. She is like a modern doll or Disney character, with distorted proportions (accentuated, perfect bow lips; extravagant, extra-long eye lashes; neat oval face, petite nose and narrow waist). Her eyes are large and round and are made up of circles within circles; the outer circle seems to act like a shadow beneath her eyes giving her a haunted look. Her eyes look warily to the side with her head slightly askew. Is she timid, supplicating, afraid, listening? Although made of bronze, her appearance belies her material and she appears fragile, with her small figure having to support her big, heavy head. She is human-like (especially in her size) and yet she is like an automaton, jointed at the ankles and knees, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Her pretty, verdigris dress supports and is decorated by heavy bronze flowers and has a neat, tight-fitting bodice. The skirt, however, billows out at her sides and she subtly holds it down with her hands.

Doll is a work of art to be puzzled over and worked out and it will draw out different emotions from different people. Some may accept the superficial, witty kitsch, others will look deeper and see something beyond the superficiality of a doll. Perhaps questions arise about childhood brought short, a longing not to grow up and a desire to return to childhood; a loss of innocence; ideas of a woman-child; a mannequin, life-sized doll and pretty marionette with perhaps more sinister connotations of a woman/girl seen as a doll and plaything.

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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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