Helen O’Leary was born in Ireland and studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and 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.
O'Leary has participated in many group exhibitions around the world and has had solo exhibitions at the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Chicago; Kerlin Gallery, Dublin; Michael Gold Gallery, New York City; Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia; Limerick City Gallery of Art, Ireland; Central Irlandais, Paris; and most recently at the MAC Belfast, Ireland; Lesley Heller Gallery, NY; Fenderesky Gallery, Belfast, Ireland; and Coleman Burke Gallery, NY. O’Leary has received many prestigious awards including the Pollock-Krasner Award (1989 & 1996), a Joan Mitchell Award and residency, many 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).