Helen O’Leary is a highly inventive artist who has been exhibiting her work for over twenty years. This is her first exhibition in Ireland since 2006. O’Leary’s new work delves into her own history as a painter, with both subject matter and raw material rooted in the ruins and failures of her studio. By taking apart canvases, wooden stretchers, panels and frames she turns the conventions of painting literally inside out. Humorous and enigmatic, these fragments that make a new whole, bare their histories as well-worn objects while at the same time are infused with newfound energy and dynamism.
Helen O’Leary grew up in rural Ireland in the 1960’s through the 1980’s. It was a life of survival, where industriousness and invention born of need were placed on equal footing with rich literature, music, language and personal narrative. O’Leary has said of her work:
I work from memoir, stories of growing up on the farm in Wexford and my life now in the United States, short stories that I then fashion from the archaeology of my studio. I work the studio as my father worked the farm, with invention out of need, using my own displacement as fodder for meaning. I take things apart, forgetting conventions and reapply my own story to the form. I revel in the history of painting, its rules, its beauty, its techniques, but fold them back into the agricultural language I grew up with. I’m interested in the personal, my own story, and the history of storytelling.
The Butler Gallery will become the framework for a unique and remarkable installation of paintings and small works by O’Leary that are paired down and pinned in a way that extends recursively across the four galleries.
Helen O’Leary was born in County Wexford and studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and then went on to study at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, receiving her B.F.A. in 1987 and her M.F.A. in 1989 with further studies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She joined the faculty of the School of Visual Arts at Penn State in 1991, where she is currently a Professor of Art.
She has participated in many group exhibitions around the world and has had solo exhibitions at the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in Chicago; the Kerlin Gallery, Dublin; the Michael Gold Gallery in New York City; the Sanskriti Foundation in New Delhi, India; the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia; the
Catherine Hammond Gallery in Cork, Ireland; The Beverly Art Centre in Chicago; Central Irlandais, Paris; and most recently at the Coleman Burke Gallery, New York.
O’Leary has received many prestigious awards including the Pollock-Krasner Award (1989 & 1996); a Joan Mitchell Award (2000); several grants from the Arts Council of Ireland; residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and the Fundacion Valparaiso in Almeria, Spain; and most recently both the Culturel Irlandaise Fellowship and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2010-2011).