Visual arts professor awarded prestigious Rome Prize

April 17, 2018

Helen O'Leary, professor of art in the Penn State School of Visual Arts, has been named as a winner of the 2018-2019 Rome Prize in the visual arts category by the American Academy in Rome.

The prestigious Rome Prize has been awarded annually by the academy for over a century as a way to support innovative and cross-disciplinary work in the arts and humanities. The visual arts category is the most competitive of the eleven recognized and O'Leary's proposal was selected from over 500 applications.

As part of her award, O'Leary will receive a stipend, workspace and room and board for a period of almost one year at the academy's 11-acre campus in Rome.

"I've been building my own version of Rome for most of my painting life. My studio is an archeological site, a dictionary of the savages of age, a compendium of erasures, renovations and restorations, each piece commenting on its predecessor," O'Leary said.

Works from her studio will be on display at O'Leary's upcoming show "Home is a Foreign Country," which will open on April 20 at the Lesley Heller Gallery in New York. A reception will be held at the gallery on opening night from 6-8 p.m. and O'Leary will participate in an artist talk on May 6 at 2:30 p.m. The show will run until May 20.

During her fellowship in Rome, O'Leary will create a series of three-dimensional, collapsible paintings, which she envisions as "large constructions that can fold into themselves and out again."

"Much like a traveling merchant, I will construct a portable show that will pack easily, that can be reduced to the size of suitcases or expanded into the room. These works will draw from the history and aesthetics of reliquaries, and other ornate “housing” structures," O'Leary explained in her Rome Prize proposal.

"To live in Rome where time is tangible through architecture, objects, art and language — at this point in my life — is an epic dream come true," O'Leary said. "It is a dream beyond the practicality of words to be invited to live and work there."

O'Leary was born in County Wexford, Ireland. She received her B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and she joined the faculty of the Penn State School of Visual Arts in 1991. During her career, she has been honored with the Pollock-Krasner Award in 1989 and 1996; the Joan Mitchell Award for painting and sculpture in 2000; and the John Simon Guggenheim, the Culturel Irlandais, MacDowell and Yaddo Fellowships. 

Last Updated April 17, 2018