Tony O’Malley was an Irish painter born in Kilkenney, the son of a salesman and Sinn Fein activist. Whilst Celtic associations can be felt in much of his work, the most productive decades of his career were spent in Cornwall. In the 1950s, he took a weeks’ holiday in St Ives with the dual intention of recovering from the tuberculosis he had long suffered, and studying at Lanyon’s St Peter Loft school. The St Ives artist’s colony was then in its post-war heyday; O’Malley found the week so productive that he eventually settled there between 1960 and 1990. During this period, he painted alongside such artists as Peter Lanyon, Bryan Wynter, Roger Hilton and Patrick Heron, enjoying a firm friendship with Heron in particular. In the 1960s, he had several one-man exhibitions at artist-run galleries in St Ives, and by 1966, his reputation attracted him solo shows at commercial galleries in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin.
By the 1980s and 1990s, he was a highly esteemed artist in Britain. A major retrospective at the Ulster Museum, Belfast and the Crawford Institute, Cork, in 1984 consolidated O'Malley's status and his work was also included in the landmark exhibition "St Ives 1939-64" at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1985. In 1996, Brian Fallon wrote a monograph on him.
Despite the fact that he moved away to make his name, O'Malley's final years were spent in an Irish town close to his place of birth. O’Malley’s home nation is emphatically proud of his achievements; in 1993 the Irish president Mary Robinson conferred on him the highest honour of the Aosdana (the Irish body which honours writers, musicians and artists) – the status of Saoi. In the following year he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Trinity College Dublin.