SAN FRANCISCO — Helen O’Leary, Penn State professor of art, has a one-woman exhibition, “Writing the Unwritable Novel,” at the Patricia Sweetow Gallery, San Francisco, Nov. 6–Dec. 31.
O’Leary assembles broken wood, stretched fiber, glue and paint into the “gestural lyricism” of reimagined sculptural paintings, according to the gallery’s news release. The exhibition title comes from writer Alex Abramovich, who said O’Leary was “writing the unwritable novel” when he visited her studio during a MacDowell residency in 2016.
O’Leary’s sculptural paintings reflect her upbringing in Ireland and education and adulthood in the United States. In the exhibition, she looks at real and symbolic costs, her process requiring a constant examination of “what you amputate, what you bring forward, what you sacrifice.”
O’Leary noted her work is based in simple materials and gestures.
“Throughout my career, I have been constructing a very personal and idiomatic formal language based in simple materials and unglamorous gestures, a framework that functions as a kind of syntactical grid of shifting equivalences," said O'Leary. "The ‘paintings’ that emerge from this process know their family history, a narrative of greatness fallen on hard times.”
O’Leary was born in County Wexford, Ireland, and earned her bachelor and master of fine arts degrees at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been a Penn State faculty member since 1991, currently focusing on courses and projects related to sustainability.
Recent honors include the Rome Prize and Italian Fellowship from The American Academy in Rome, two Pollock-Krasner awards and a Joan Mitchell Award for painting and sculpture. Exhibitions include the National Gallery of Art, Limerick, Ireland; Glasgow Museum of Art, Glasgow, Scotland; The MAC, Belfast, Northern Ireland; Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia; and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, New York. Her work is represented in national and international collections.
For more on the exhibition, visit the Patricia Sweetow Gallery website.