Semester 1 : Helen O’Leary


While Helen O’Leary is not quite as precise as Susan Collis she is not an artist into the big gesture. She has created, in her own words, a formal language using everyday things. She takes things apart, like Matta-Clark perhaps, but reconstructs them in her own particular way. One period of her work involved her using her history as a painter, using those things in the studio, old stretchers, canvas and so on, and using them to recreate her own personal narrative. She deconstructs but reassembles too, thoughtfully. The stretchers once the bones of the artwork ‘have been exhumed and remade into the tendons and sinews of the image itself’. It is a taking apart of things, a rejigging to refresh. So what is there for me here?I take apart. I reassemble. But without O’Leary’s thought or precision. My focus is the process of the taking apart, the process of the reassembly. Or so I think it is. Not always though. The end result does have its own life and meaning too.


While I do want to steer clear of the precision or exactness of O’Learys language I can see how choosing the elements of ones language e.g. the objects in the studio, the objects in the home, can clarify and focus what one is doing. When I choose objects they are usually what is there, nearby or/and, what is available, easily and cheaply. Which is fine but it is a very wide remit which can throw up a lot of diverse objects with diverse past uses. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is worth considering whether that is what I want?Whether zoning in a bit more, categorizing materials not just on their physical availability but intellectually and emotionally, or even according tho their social of historical function might be a way forward?

Interestingly I wrote this with only one or two photos of O’Leary’s installations in mind, imagining delicately balanced stretchers creating untidy (but not too untidy) frames. Looking for images to upload I am reminded of her smaller pieces, untider and more muscular than I remember but still with the strange precision that Collis has too. This underpinning of her work by her thinking, her theory visible, is important. It adds depth to her work…but I wonder does it subtract from the energy of her process?Is it more intellectual than visceral?I feel a little choked in the way I do looking at Collis’s work.

It is something for me to keep in mind for it is that energy I want to bring to bear on my work, maybe not to overwhelm it completely (or maybe..?) but to crash it up against the barrier of time and sapce (why go small when you can go big after all?), to have that energy bring the material to the lip of the wave, before it all comes crashing down. Or something…

So, even I have been writing these posts about these artists, skimming the surface of their practices I have learned a lot. Maybe I’ll even remember some of it….

All images from







The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Helen O’Leary, 2017, [online], available at [accessed 21/04/2018].

Helen O’, 2018, Work, [online], available at [accessed 21/04/2018].

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