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Artist Bio: Helen O'Toole

What Was: unmarked

Paintings by Helen O'Toole

On view now through May 30, 2022 in the Nichols Gallery.

Her paintings probe this covert mess of darkness and trauma, implicating the inner lives of her ancestors and their sense of place. She alludes to an otherwise cloaked connection to a darker past that persists. The burnt-out big houses, the remains of famine cottages, and the limestone walls surrounding stony green fields are expressions of the stories told, marking out what’s mine and what’s yours. Land markers and erasures divulge the stains and concealment of past histories in What Was: unmarked.


Helen O’Toole is a painter, born in County Mayo, Ireland, and grew up with ten siblings. She worked on the family farm and played music as a child. O'Toole studied art at the Institute of Technology, Sligo, and the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. In 1996, she moved to the USA to escape unemployment and embrace a different lifestyle. O'Toole pursued her graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and immediately after, spent a summer at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine.

Helen O'Toole during an artist walkthrough on opening day.

O’Toole is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, a Contemporary Northwest Art Award, a Pollock Krasner Award, the Jack and Grace Pruzan Fellowship, and numerous other awards and research grants. Over the past 30 years, she has exhibited in national and international exhibitions.

She has participated in residencies including The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; the Bemis Foundation, Omaha; and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre Residency Programme, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. Her work is in the collection of the Portland Museum, OR. She lives in Seattle, and she is currently Professor of Art and Chair of the Division of Art at the University of Washington.



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