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Helen O'Leary


O’Leary’s work draws on her personal experiences past and present. The intricate wooden objects she creates may be considered as fragments of an unfinished memoir. Growing up on a farm in rural Wexford in the 1960s through the 1980s, she cites the industriousness and invention born of need, that she experienced from a young age, as traits that carry through to her artistic practice now; “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.” In the studio, O’Leary repurposes wood from previous constructions that have been dismantled, knitting pieces of wood together and working into them until a final form takes hold. She describes the frame-like structures produced from this process, such as Refusal and The Problem with Adjectives, as paintings that can stand by themselves, that have their own architecture. In a recent interview with maake magazine, the artist described the process of making Refusal; “I was thinking about defeat and its opposite, seeing the dissembled emptied frame as a marker, somewhere in between losing and gaining.”

MediumBole clay, oil paint, polymer and pigment on constructed wood
Dimensions Unframed, 30.5 x 35.5 x 6.35 cm
Credit LineIMMA Collection: Donated by the artist, 2018
Item NumberIMMA.4042
Copyright For copyright information, please contact the IMMA Collections team: [email protected].
Image Caption
Helen O'Leary, Refusal, 2014, Bole clay, oil paint, polymer and pigment on constructed wood, Unframed, 30.5 x 35.5 x 6.35 cm, Collection Irish Museum of Modern Art, Donated by the artist, 2018

For copyright information, please contact the IMMA Collections team: [email protected].

About the Artist

Helen O'Leary

Helen O’Leary attended the National College of Art and Design, Dublin (BA) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA, MFA). She has been honoured with la Prix de Rome, American Academy in Rome, John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship; two PollockKrasner awards; and the Joan Mitchell Award for painting and sculpture. Solo exhibitions include Lesley Heller Gallery, New York; The MAC, Belfast; Limerick City Gallery of Art. O’Leary is represented by Lesley Heller Gallery, New York. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey and Leitrim.
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