Tony O’Malley was a self-taught artist, having drawn and painted for pleasure from childhood. He worked as a bank official until contracting tuberculosis in the 1940s. He began painting in earnest while convalescing and, though he did at first return to bank work, he continued to paint and in 1951 he began exhibiting his work. In 1955 O’Malley holidayed in St Ives, Cornwall, then an important centre of abstract art, and home to the artists Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, and Bryan Wynter, who he met and worked with. He returned in 1957 and in 1958 retired from the bank to paint full-time. He settled in St Ives in 1960.