Michael O’Leary (pictured above, c1970s) recently published a book of his artwork over the last 40 years. It is accompanied by descriptions of his art along with key extracts from his poems that relate to his artworks.

It has an introduction by art curator Gregory O’Brien and was launched at John Quilter’s Bookshop, Ghuznee Street, Wellington, on Saturday 21 July 2012. It is available from Michael at pukapuka@paradise.net.nz

Here is part of O’Brien’s introduction to the book. The title of the essay is a nod to Maurice Duggan’s story ‘O’Leary’s Orchard’:


When Charles Barr wrote that ‘all criticism involves distortion,’ he probably wasn’t thinking of the kind of distortion Jimi Hendrix utilised in ‘Voodoo Chile’ or ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Forget about the small metal box on the stage floor, equidistant between the Fender Stratocaster and the Marshall Stack. Barr was talking of the gnarly, misshapen kind of criticism against which Charles Baudelaire railed over a century earlier. In his 1846 review of the Paris Salon, the father of modern art-writing laid it on the line: ‘I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that which is amusing and poetic; not that cold and algebraic kind which, under the pretext of explaining everything, displays neither hate nor love…’ Thus the best account of a painting can well be a sonnet or an elegy. Of similar mind, the American painter Fairfield Porter put it another way: ‘Aesthetics should be, or I think I prefer to say, is, a collection of personal remarks, avoiding systems and extrapolations…’
   In attempting a critical introduction to this sampling of Michael O’Leary’s diverse visual/verbal output, I would—channeling the benevolent spirits of Baudelaire and Porter—embrace and celebrate the effects and distortions of the work but without, I hope, distorting
the work further. Instead I would offer the reader/viewer a few vistas from the periphery of this munificent orchard, and corral a few thoughts appropriate to such a zone of carefully considered moves and virtuosic mishaps (‘what is the life of the mind but a history of
interesting mistakes,’ wrote Hugh Kenner) so that we might follow Michael O’Leary on his ’eccentric orbit’, to borrow an astrological term well-suited to his artistic progress, his trajectory through the inner and outer world of things.
  Needless to say, Michael is on the side of the makers rather than the annotators, elaborators and explainers. He places himself firmly in the grand tradition of artists who invent their own tradition. That said, he has inherited an assortment of character traits from Romanticism. Like Rimbaud or Mallarme, he is capable of the ecstasies of artistic creation and a euphoric immersion in nature or human company or music (the Beatles, Kurt Cobain…). Like Yayoi Kusama, from time to time he finds himself ‘obliterated in the dancing swarm of fireflies’. When the need arises, an inner need, he can also rally the troops, shake the battlements, blow the trumpet—just like Ken Bolton: ‘Unemployed at last!’ Or, again, like Kusama: ‘Love Forever Girls! Adolescence is on the way!’ Or Mallarme: ‘A lovely drunkenness enlists me to raise, though the vessel lists, this toast on high and without fear. / Solitude, rocky shoal, bright star…’

Gregory O’Brien

Title: ARTIST: Artworks and words
Author: Michael O’Leary
ISBN: 978-1-86942-132-8
Price: $50.00
Extent: 60 pages
Format: 260mmx208mm
Publication: July 2012
Publisher: Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop


Michael O’Leary’s painting ‘The Dark Lords of Pukerua’ depicting Alistair Campbell and Te Rauparaha at Kapiti featured in the recent Alistair Te Ariki Campbell Exhibition at Pataka Museum’s Bottle Creek Community Gallery in Porirua, April 14-May 1, 2011. A stanza from O’Leary’s poem ‘Meeting with Te Rauparaha’ (published in his 2005 HeadworX collection Make Love and War) is also incorporated in the bottom right of the painting.

Michael was invited by co-curators Mary Campbell and Peter Coates to do an artwork specially for the exhibition.