Missing a Layer

In Missing a Layer the heart is held-aloft by a bronze hand that grips it so that the fingers indent its surface. This is reminiscent of Bernini’s marble sculpture, The Rape of Proserpina, in which Pluto’s hands dig into the soft flesh (and hard marble) of Proserpina’s thigh. The indentation of the fingers and the slight dimpling on the surface of the heart indicate that it is soft, that it is ‘missing a layer’ and is exposed without the protection of an outer surface. This intimates the openness of a heart, open to hurt, wounding and suffering but also open to love. Holding the heart upwards, triumphantly, offering it up to the sky, indicates an openness to experience, to pain and wrenching but also hope, inspiration and joy. When the hand releases the heart, the heart returns to its fullness, the indentations do not remain. It may bruise but it is not broken. It is woundable but resilient. The heart is the symbol of love and in the sculpture we may see the triumph of the heart (of love) as it is held aloft; its strength lies in its weakness, vulnerability and softness.

Missing a Layer is inspired by the work of Emily Dickinson who compared her sensitivity, which she exposes in her poetry, to ‘missing a layer of skin’. This vulnerability opened her up to be able to sense and express her appreciation of the small things in life. O’Reilly admires the simplicity of her words and her focus on the smallest detail, ‘on every particular comma’. He evokes the vulnerability and sensitivity of her ‘poor - torn heart - a tattered heart‘ . But there is resilience too in offering the heart out into the world. Dickinson wrote: ‘If I can stop one heart from breaking / I shall not live in vain’. In Missing a Layer, the heart’s surface is smooth and unblemished, and it softly reflects the light of its surroundings with a changing reaction depending on the play of light. The sculpture is otherwise known as Soft Heart suggesting that, deep down, everybody has a soft heart.

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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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