Irish American Art

June 28, 2007

Art In America
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By John Gooodrich

Elizabeth O’Reilly: Watercolors
George Billis Gallery

Watercolor is a famously unforgiving medium, liable to show up the least hesitation or lassitude. In a small show of her watercolors at George Billis Gallery however, Elizabeth O’Reilly shows she can handle the medium with possibly even greater aplomb than her oils.
Most of these 10 small works depict clothed models posing at Spring Street Studio. Short poses may have necessitated a rapid technique, but this doesn’t seem to have prevented Ms. O’Reilly from capturing full impressions. Without any preliminary pencil drawing, she lays in pools of colors, confident that they will become limbs, torsos, and a modeling platform — which, indeed they do, with the factuality of keenly observed colors and shapes.

The model’s light garment in “White Skirt” (2007) might seem bound to melt indeterminately into the paper, but with just a few indications of folds, plus the long sweeping shadow on the ground, Ms. O’Reilly imparts volume and weight to a seated figure. A single fluid wash somehow suffices to convey both head and shoulders, with a single dot of shadow indicating, convincingly, the turn of the head.

In “Marietta in Blue and Orange” (2007), the blocked-in verticals and horizontals of the studio background emphasize another model’s long, diagonal stretch. Again, economic details beautifully complete a gesture, with dark folds of fabric accentuating the model’s pale hands, planted on a stool to support her leaning pose. In this work, Ms. O’Reilly makes especially effective use of textures, contrasting deep, liquid, granulating washes of background blues against the smooth, warm tints of skin.

Two larger watercolors portray flowering forsythia bushes. In both, splashes of electric yellow expand almost to the paper’s edge, where darker notes of leaves or trunks contain them. Additional strokes of other, varied yellows and siennas impart a depth and complication, so that the central forms become complex blazes of color supported on spindly stems. As with her watercolors of figures, the intrepid attack, grounded by only the most necessary of details, conveys a satisfyingly complete experience.

Until July 14 (511 West 25th St., between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, 212-645-2621).

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