Helen O’Toole was born in the west of Ireland. She attended the RTC Sligo; the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, BA with 1st class honors in Painting, 1986; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, MFA in Painting, 1989; and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, 1989. She is the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts, a 2016 Contemporary Northwest Art Award, a Pollock Krasner Award in 2013, the Jack and Grace Pruzan Fellowship for 2009-2012 and 2013- 2015, and numerous other awards and research grants.

Over the past 25 years, her work has been included in several international exhibitions in Ireland and Singapore, including solo exhibitions at the Hamilton Gallery, Sligo, Ireland; The Linenhall Arts Centre, Co. Mayo, Ireland; The Yeats Gallery, Sligo, Ireland; Linda Hodges Gallery, Seattle; the “Contemporary Northwest Art Awards” exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, Portland; Sazama Gallery, Chicago; The Cultural Center, Chicago; The Hudson D. Walker Gallery, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; and Chatam College, Pittsburgh.

O’Toole has participated in numerous residencies including The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown; the Bemis Foundation, Omaha; and The Tyrone Guthrie Centre Residency Programme, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. She has been a visiting artist and given talks on her work at venues such as the Malaysian Institute of Art, Kuala Lumpur; The University of Alaska, Fairbanks; The University of Puget Sound, Tacoma; and SFMOMA Gallery, San Francisco. She has taught at La Salle College of the Arts, Singapore, and The University of Washington Studio Art Program in Rome.

Her work is represented by Hamilton Gallery, Sligo, Ireland. She lives in Seattle and is currently Professor of Art and Chair of the Painting and Drawing Program at the University of Washington.