Small Bear: In Search of Lost Time

Bears are perhaps O’Reilly’s signature works of art. He says of them: ‘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 uplighting experience so my message may be well disguised.’ The teddy bear is a ubiquitous and universal image of childhood. O’Reilly presents a playful image but with a deeper resonance. O’Reilly states: ‘From childhood days our first memory is that of a bear. He personifies innocence, companionship and trust. He is a pure spirit and symbolises unworldliness. As adults many of us remember this childhood time with a reverence, as sadly this era must end. Life must take its course and is never stationary. The Bear marches on with a look of resigned acceptance. He keeps going despite life’s turbulence and uncertainty. He is silent and does not complain.’

O’Reilly takes the title In Search of Lost Time from Marcel Proust’s novel ‘À La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ in which Proust writes about involuntary memory and the remembered moment (perhaps distorted by time) which carries a sensation with it. So the bear pulls his memories along behind him (they are ever a part of him) and they cannot be escaped. Childhood shapes the adult who develops a hard shell as the years go by but they also carry within themselves the softness of a child who can be comforted by a teddy.

O’Reilly’s bears are not soft but they are tough, like the bronze from which they are made, and they seem to portray the insistence and resilience of the child who won’t give up. The bear strides out determinedly, ready to face whatever is in his path. He is not bashful, or embarrassed or too self-aware. He faces the grind of life, but also breaks free from that and he represents the determination and feeling of exhilaration that comes with that freedom.

O’Reilly says of his sculptures that large or small, ‘every piece is important to me. Whether you dominate the piece or the scale of the piece is dominated by you – these are two very different experiences.’

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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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