The renowned Irish abstract painter Tony O’Malley was born in Co. Kilkenny in 1913. A self-educated artist, he was painting and drawing from an early age but it wasn’t until the 1940’s, when illness temporarily forced him out of his banking job, that he began to pursue his craft with earnest. In 1951 O’Malley began to exhibit his work publicly. Leaving Ireland in 1955 for the artist’s retreat of St. Ives in Cornwall, it was here that O’Malley evolved and honed his distinctive style. At the time, the St. Ives School was a hub for abstract landscape painters, a style favoured by O’Malley as he felt it allowed him greater self-expression.
O’Malley was not a portrait painter but, fundamentally, a landscape painter, a painter of place. He used observation as his main tool yet produced primarily non-figurative images. As he worked, he continued to produce pieces that maintained a level of accuracy, yet it was never much of a concern of his as an artist. His art is modern and full of colour, recognized for its texture and innate spirituality.
Colour remained a distinguishing element of O’Malley’s work throughout his career. In the early days he chose to use primarily earthy tones. In the mid-seventies, he and his artist wife Jane Harris began to divide their time between the Isles of Scilly, the Bahamas and Ireland. Islands provided both physical and spiritual inspiration for O’Malley and when he arrived in the Bahamas his usual colour choices had to change. There did not exist there the same earthy colours. The light and the landscape on which it fell was vibrant, resulting in a radical pallet change.
Although traditionally noted for his painted works, from the 1960’s and throughout the remainder of his career, O’Malley created various sculptural pieces. These he referred to as ‘constructions’. Forged from objects he found in his immediate surroundings and paint added for colour, O’Malley created a collection of pieces that were connections to a specific time, place or occasion experienced by the artist.
In 1990 O’Malley made Ireland his home once more. In 1993 he was conferred Saoi of Aosdána by Mary Robinson. He was also awarded the IMMA/Glen Dimplex Lifetime Achievement Award
Upon his death in 2003, and to this day, Tony O’Malley is considered to be one of Ireland’s most gifted and noteworthy artists.