Elizabeth O’Reilly, Rock Crusher and Canal 2009 Watercolor and Collage, 11½ x 15½ inches
Elizabeth O’Reilly is an Irish-American painter making watercolor and collage paintings of industrial areas such as the Gowanus Canal area of Brooklyn. She cuts out shapes with an x-acto knife from her palette of tinted watercolor papers that she uses to simplify and respond to the architectural forms such as bridges and industrial buildings. Her distillation of complex forms into into delightful abstract color events seem bright and optimistic but not too sweet as she retains the forlorn industrial nature and sense of place. These pictures are not only engaging formal constructions but also shows an emotional connection evolving from her close study of this subject as she has long painted these scenes in oils from observation.
In her artist statement on her gallery, George Billis Gallery in NYC she said:
“A long-time on-site painter of the Gowanus Canal area of Brooklyn, O’Reilly has moved indoors – taking her subject with her – to further her exploration of the subject in collage with watercolor-tinted paper. Trading the brush for an x-acto knife, O’Reilly reduces the forms with the simplest of means to imbue the work with a flush of modernity.
Attracted as always by the vivid color of industry against the muted colors of nature, O’Reilly pares down the body of her composition. Taking the best of what watercolor can offer in terms of transparency and light, O’Reilly eliminates the soft edges expected in this medium and substitutes a decisive, unpredictable edge. Clouds are flattened with a wash of color and come to an unexpected stop with the hard edge of the knife. Water – which we think of as fluid and soft – becomes an irrevocable shape, and complex architectural structures are reduced to colors and shapes. The economy of the cutting motion simplifies the description of a form.
While the paintings came from more than a decade of standing and painting in the same spots, the coming to a slow understanding and knowing of a place, the constraints of the medium of collage allows the expression of the repeating rhythm of the forms. The focus moves away from the place, and on to an interplay of color and shape.”
Barges 2009 Watercolor and Collage 8¼” x 7¾”
Blue Bridge 2007 Watercolor and Collage 8″ x 8″
Containers and Water, 3rd St. 2009 Watercolor and Collage 11¾” x 15″
The art critic John Gooodrich said in An Sionnach
A Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts Spring, 2008
Elizabeth O’Reilly: Paintings and Collages
In terms of plastic modeling, collage inherently lacks the sensuous flexibility of oils and the svelteness of pure watercolor. This doesn’t hamper O’Reilly, however, whose small images of street scenes and harbor views seem at once jewel-like and gritty. In them, the chunky shapes of streets and bridges, muscularly arrayed in space, are illuminated by delicate tints and powdery granulations of pigments. These collages seem simultaneously awkward, delicate, and trenchant. Despite the technical restrictions of the medium – or just possibly because of them – they amplify the most intriguing qualities of O’Reilly’s work, which for me lie not so much in rich atmosphere and graceful surface pattern but in the rhythmic momentum of forms.
In one collage, a thin wedge-shaped scrap of paper, tint blue-green, drives forcibly up past the design’s center before arresting the eye at a quieter zone of layered purples-grays and pale lime-greens. A few notes of darker green model its volume, explaining it’s real-world identity: a metal railing, separating pavement from water as it plunges into space and to, eventually, a gentle unfolding of hills and houses. The poignancy of this little image lies in the independent vitality of its forms. O’Reilly has located these object’s characters, rather than merely enumerating them. Their personalities emerge, moreover, not from technical facility – from picturesque brushwork, say – but from the simplest, most irreducible formal means.
Blue Bridge #2 2007 Watercolor and Collage 8″ x 8″
Below 3rd St. Bridge 2009 Watercolor and Collage 11″ x 6″
Cars Under Expressway 2008 Watercolor and Collage 8″ x 8″
Green Cloud 2009 Watercolor and Collage 11½” x 12″
Elizabeth O’Reilly received her MFA in 1992 from Brooklyn College, New York, and her B.Ed from the National University of Ireland. She has participated in residencies at the Ballinglen Foundation, Ireland and has recieved numerous awards, including a Pollock Krasner Foundation grant. According to a review by David Cohen in the New York Sun her mentors include Lois Dodd and George Nick. She shows at the George Billis Gallery in NYC.
Street Lights from 3rd St 2009 Watercolor and Collage 8¼” x 12″
Red Hook Park with Snow 2009 Watercolor and Collage 11¾” x 15″
Red Trucks at Canal 2008 Watercolor and Collage 8″ x 8″
Latham Farms 2007 Oil on Panel 11” X 19
Green Trailer 2007 Oil on Panel 15” X 16″
Red Container 2007 Oil on Panel 17” X 18″
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