The Observer

Dylag, Sarah, “Artist and Geneticist?  For University of Wisconsin Ph.D. Prospect Hunter O'Reilly (now known as Hunter Cole), It's All in a Day's Work,” September 2, 1998


For University of Wisconsin Ph.D. prospect Hunter O'Reilly (now known as Hunter Cole), it's all in a day's work

Hunter O'Reilly graduated cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley, holds a Masters of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in genetics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In addition to these academic successes she is also an artist, whose work will be displayed in the South Bend area for the next month. The Barnes and Noble Cafe in Mishawaka, Indiana, will display six paintings from O'Reilly's "Abstract Faces Series" from September 1-30.

O'Reilly has never formally studied art, but became inspired to paint after a trip to Paris two years ago. Since her trip, she has filled six sketchbooks and displayed her paintings in both group and solo shows.

"[In Paris] I got to see the original paintings that you normally just see reproduced," she explained. "I always did drawing, but Paris inspired me and I thought oil painting would be a good medium for my ideas."

Before her experiences in Paris, O'Reilly's artistic experience had been limited to a few sketches and doodles.

"I always liked to draw and I always found myself doodling," she said. "But in the past couple of years I have done it more seriously. Now, when I look back at things - I did a cover for a literary journal when I was at the University of California, Berkeley - I realize that I did some of the same things there that I do in my paintings now."

Today, along with her work her work in the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, O'Reilly creates oil paintings in a style she describes as "hunterism," which is characterized by the use of a single line or border to define more than one object in the painting.

"Certain elements of this style art are abstract, figurative or both, depending on the viewer's perspective," said O'Reilly.

The young artist's "Abstract Faces Series," her largest series so far, clearly demonstrates this self-proclaimed artistic style.

"It's abstract and colorful, but is figurative too," O'Reilly said. "Shapes make up both cellular forms and bodies. You can see things in it even though it is abstract."

O'Reilly cites Picasso, Kandinsky and Miro as her main influences and, although she has never taken classes on these artists, she has read and studied about them on her own. She also maintains that her work in science has directly affected her art.

"As an artist, everything influences your art, but for me, a lot of things and shapes I see in the lab under a microscope are reflected in my art," she said. "I see different patterns and shapes and I find them interesting."

O'Reilly said that she believes that the scientific and artistic processes are more closely related than most people might believe.

Science requires a scientist to discover order in nature instead of trying to impose it, according to O'Reilly. Her art functions in a similar way, forcing the viewer to find order among the different shapes and forms.

Despite the similarities she sees between science and art, O'Reilly admits that balancing both her research and her painting can sometimes pose a challenge. Although she does not paint everyday, she does get very involved in the projects she works on.

"I probably don't get enough sleep as I should," she joked. "But I just get so into the art and have such a passion for it. Once I get into it, I keep doing it for hours."

Her newfound passion for art has posed questions about where she will dedicate her efforts in the future.

"I am getting my Ph.D. because I've put so much time and energy into it," she emphasized. "But I want to keep doing the art. In the long run, I'm unsure about what I'll pursue. Pursuing genetics is definitely not a 9-5 job so it might be difficult to do both."

She has, however, considered options that might offer more time for her painting and that would allow her to combine her interests in art and science. Teaching genetics, for example, might provide more flexibility in her schedule.

"I like teaching a lot and I've done it before, working as a TA or tutor," she explained. "Teaching might be some direction that would allow more time for my art."

Getting involved with some sort of public education about genetics might allow her not only to dispel common misconceptions about genetics, but incorporate her artistic skills in her study.

"I've thought about doing a book of genetics for the laymen," she said. "Maybe I could make it artistic as well."

No matter where she ends up, O'Reilly insists that she will always continue painting. "I've just developed such a passion for it."

O'Reilly is currently involved with a group of international artists called Renaissance 2001. More than 300 different artists from 30 different countries belong to the group, which formed over the Internet.

Membership into this group, which is free, has allowed O'Reilly to begin displaying her artwork not only throughout the United States, but also in other countries. Beginning Sept. 8, other paintings from her "Abstract Faces Series" will be on display at the Broadway Gallery and Abraham Lubelski Gallery in New York City, and this past July she participated in a group show in Harrogate, England.

"I think it's really cool and I'd encourage young artists to look at their website," she said. "It's a unique way to get your artwork out there. This is more than people putting art up on the internet. It's artists talking to each other and influencing each other from all over the world."

O'Reilly's artwork can also be seen on her own award-winning website at

© 1998 The Observer