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The Badger Herald
Artist and geneticist brings work to UW


By Alexei Esikoff
March 26, 1998

Hunter O'Reilly, a Ph.D. candidate at UW-Madison, is an artist and geneticist. While one may find this to be an unlikely combination (O'Reilly herself refers to it as "very right brain/left brain"), the two things complement each other in her paintings.

"I think I was destined to be an artist," said O'Reilly as she traced her finger along the wall. "Even as a kid, I would see patterns in everything. I used to try to keep a journal but I could never finish one. But in two years, I've finished three sketchbooks."

She is an abstract artist concentrating on oils, working with bold colors and irregular shapes to express the observations she makes in the laboratory and in the world.

Recurring themes include birds symbolizing flight, multitudes of faces, and a fetus-like shape symbolizing womanhood and rebirth.

"Sometimes people look at my paintings and see things that I don't see. It's flattering because I know they are studying it and paying close attention."

O'Reilly even has her own definition of her art, something she calls "Hunterism," which she interprets as "post-modern art characterized by the use of a single line or shape to simultaneously define the contours of more than one person and/or object. Certain elements in this style of art are abstract, figurative or both, depending on the viewer's perspective."

Born Gail Darlene Hunter in San Francisco, she described her childhood as "difficult." Her parents divorced early in her life; when she was three years old she moved between the homes of her mother, father and grandparents.

O'Reilly graduated cum laude from the University of California-Berkley, where she met her husband, Robert O'Reilly. After the marriage, she started signing her paintings "Hunter O'Reilly."

"I started using Hunter as my first name because it is a strong name. Plus it's not clear if I am male or female, which has advantages in the art world."

According to O'Reilly, some paintings begin as sketches, while others she just starts painting. It is a very instinctual process. A single line or shape can often define the entire picture, and images usually share common borders.

In one of her works, "Shocked People," five blue faces, each with a different emotion, have adjoining sides. The middle face has one red-lined eye for two heads.

Among her influences, O'Reilly includes Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, and Miro.

"People come up to me and say, 'I can really see them in your work.' In one way, it's flattering, but everything I do comes from my subconscious. I'm not copying them."

O'Reilly feels a special bond to Kandinsky because he did not start painting until he was an adult, and she herself began two years ago.

While O'Reilly knows that many find the combination of artist and geneticist odd, she said the two complement each other quite nicely.

"I find painting is a good release after a long day in the lab. In experiments there is a lot of down-time, so I use the time to sketch."

O'Reilly currently has an exhibit at Studio Z in Madison that runs until April 9th.

To see her work on the world wide web, there is also her award-winning site at http://www.huntercole.org/media/hunter.html.

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