In her art Mary Reilly uses both powdered graphite and graphite lead to focus on the natural world within the limits of New York City’s five boroughs. “For me, working in graphite, using the techniques I’ve learned and have cultivated over the years, has been extremely gratifying. I tone my paper with up to eight layers of graphite before starting my drawing, taking the surface to a middle tone then pushing the darks and lifting the lights. This process creates subtle shifts in the tone that are in harmonious contrast with the sharpness of the minute details, helping me create a sensuality and a mood in each piece.” For subject matter she seeks out natural places often ignored by visitors and natives alike: serene parks and gardens away from the concrete streets. “Since my childhood, nature has had a profound effect on me in ways that I cherish. The state of mind that is installed within me when walking through the woods, or on a secluded beach by the sights and sounds, the smells, the sense of nostalgia, the timelessness and diversity of nature’s splendor.” This drawing belongs to the artist’s Graffiti Tree series.
“I found most of the images from my Graffiti Tree series within the woods of Alley Pond Park, Queens. Alley Pond Park has one of the ‘ancient forests of NYC’. I photographed graffiti trees in many parks within the five boroughs of NY but the trees in Alley Pond Park were by far the most plentiful and the most interesting, with carvings dating back to the 1930’s (as in ‘Jack Loves Kat’ from 1932). The forest that I found ‘Pee Wee’ in is now called the Thain Family Forest (formally known as ‘Historic Forest’) in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. What I find interesting about these woods is that the carvings are all so different. Walking through the woods was like a trip back in time. Almost every tree had something carved on it which made me imagine the people from the surrounding neighborhoods walking into the park, whether it be kids drinking, smoking and hanging out, or lovers taking a stroll. I found the faceless initials carved on the trees and what might be the story behind them to be most interesting . . . I guess you can say that the history of the carvings is what inspired me to draw them.”
PEE WEE is the ambiguous tag of an early adolescent graffiti writer, who probably lived near this wildlife sanctuary. Its anonymous writer may have been a person of small stature or someone sad about the fact of being petite. Alternatively, PEE WEE may have had a surname beginning with a P, as that initial follows PEE WEE, adding an element of mystery to the sheet. The drawing has many connections with other objects in the N-YHS collections. The most obvious link is to the later urban graffiti drawing collection (as well as to the photographs of graffiti and the graffiti door). It also has a dialogue with hundreds of Asher B. Durand’s graphite drawings of trees, the artist’s magnificent obsession. Moreover, Reilly’s focused study of bark recalls a large number of the watercolors by John James Audubon for “The Birds of America,” as for him trees were a major roost for “the feathered tribes.” In fact, Audubon named one of his favorite birds, today known as the Eastern Phoebe, “Pewees.” He applied silver threads to the legs of individuals from a family of this species, becoming the first person in history to practice bird banding.