JOHN O’REILLY – Height of Collage

“There’s an element of gay culture that only wants to look at and glorify beautiful men, but I’m much more interested in presenting a realistic image of the male body.” – JOHN O’REILLY

Using razor blades, paper clips, and an old Polaroid camera, John O’Reilly has spent the past several decades constructing visual passion plays and elaborate fantasy scenarios in which he mingles with such esteemed company as Goya and Caravaggio. O’Reilly also has appropriated photos of queer icons such as Walt Whitman, Benjamin Britten, and Jean Genet, transforming them into droll self-portraits by pasting his own bespectacled mug onto their bodies, or by paper-clipping their famous faces to his refreshingly pale, scrawny torso.

“The self-portraits try to establish both a self-identity and a social identity. I attempt to counter the sense of imprisonment, the feelings of marginalization, by insisting that my private world exists as an integral part of the larger social context.” – JOHN O’REILLY

As a bemused gate-crasher through the annals of art history, O’Reilly has produced an aesthetically dazzling, thematically rich body of work that addresses issues of sexuality, creativity, and self-definition. For many years O’Reilly conducted his artistic exploration in private. Such is his career-shunning modesty that for several decades the Massachusetts-based artist-now nearing seventy-only showed his work to close friends. Not until his celebrated inclusion in the 1995 Whitney Biennial did O’Reilly achieve belated “overnight success” as a pioneer of elegant, witty, often erotic gay imagery.

by Red Cell


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