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MAY 2001 / VOL. 1 ISSUE 12

Art
 

It's all in the genes
 

Science, art present wild mixture of form
By Michelle C. Boyle

Dr. Hunter O'Reilly can be proud of her accomplishments.  As a recent doctoral graduate in genetics, O'Reilly has been able to shed the proverbial white lab coat in favor of an artist's smock and put her scientific knowledge on canvas. Radioactive Biohazard, an appropriate name for O'Reilly's art exhibit, is the culmination of years of work in the science lab and pure artistic talent. 

This seemingly incongruous match of science and art came together for O'Reilly during a trip to Europe when she had the opportunity to study painting by 20th century masters like Kandinsky, Picasso and Miro. O'Reilly herself is not what is stereotypically thought of when you hear "genetic scientist." She is an energetic, 29-year-old with an incredible sense of modesty.

Although O'Reilly is her married name (her maiden name is Gale Hunter), this talented young woman obviously has ancestors hailing from the Emerald Isle, as evidenced by her mane of gorgeous red hair.  O'Reilly is fifth-generation Irish, with a mix of German and other ancestry whose ancestors settled in San Francisco in the 1800s. She and her fiancee, Robert O'Reilly, relocated to Madison to pursue graduate school.  Accepted at different institutions around the country, they selected Madison because it was the best university that accepted both of them in their fields of study. 

Robert O'Reilly attended law school at UW-Madison and recently opened offices on Milwaukee's South Side and in Racine. His mother is a Flanagan, so there is enough Irish to go around, laughed his artist/scientist wife. The couple now lives in Cudahy, Wisconsin. They plan on visiting Ireland soon, perhaps even on a whirlwind art tour.

Radioactive Biohazard  has unavoidably strong overtones of the increasingly prominent hot topic of debate: human cloning. O'Reilly hoped that someday human cloning would be possible.

O'Reilly said, "The term 'clone' is negative in itself.  Even though human clones would have identical DNA, they would still have a unique soul." 

O'Reilly thought that in the future couples which are unable to have children would have the opportunity to raise a DNA clone of themselves as a child. Yet she cautioned, "This child would be raised as a son or a daughter -- not as a sibling."

When asked if she would like a clone of herself, only with black hair instead, O'Reilly laughed. "I can't even see myself having kids yet!,"  she exclaimed. 

O'Reilly hoped to dispel any negative, preconceived ideas about human cloning through her artwork. Radioactive Biohazard  includes several large oil paintings interpreting what it means to clone humans and all the positive attributes O'Reilly believed would come with it. In a colorful, whimsical painting entitled Madonna con Clon; O'Reilly explained how she was depicting "the loving relationship of a mother and her human cloned child and the uniqueness of each." 

In the eye-catching Art of Death  piece, O'Reilly enlarged a series of electron micrographs of dangerous viruses like Ebola and HIV. In glorious color, and illuminated from behind by neon lighting, it's hard to believe something so dreaded can be so beautiful. 

Recently, at the Walker's Point Center for the Arts, a fellow art observer, Sarah Aumann, an Inter-Arts major at UW-Milwaukee, explained her reaction to O'Reilly's unique work as "an interesting combination of science and neon and plastic.  I have really never seen anything like this before." 

This was the reaction O'Reilly was hoping for from her controversial, exciting artwork.  At the exhibit, O'Reilly confessed, "This is my first showing of an exhibit with such a strong statement.  It's fine with me if people disagree with my work and want to open up a debate."  Her goal, she said, was to just get "people thinking." 

Quietly confident in her work, O'Reilly is even comfortable with the possibility that some people might not appreciate her work.

"Maybe I'll even get people angry, but that's all right. The worst response for an artist is apathy."

Apathy was the last thing O'Reilly has to worry about. Wherever she goes there is certain to be a stir of excitement.  It's not everyday that you meet someone who seamlessly marries the discipline of science with the creativity of art.
 
 
 
If You Go
Dr. Hunter O'Reilly's art exhibit, Radioactive Biohazard, is being shown at the Walker's Point Center for the Arts, 911 W. National Ave, Milwaukee, 53204. Call 414-672-2787.  The exhibit will run through June 2, with  gallery hours from 1 to 5 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday. The project was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin; CAMPAC; the Puffin Foundation; and the UWM Cultures and Communities Program.

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