Irene Chou was born in Shanghai, where she studied economics at St. John’s University. Upon graduating in 1945, Chou worked as a journalist for Peace Daily Shanghai. Thereafter she left for Taipei and in 1949 for Hong Kong. In 1954, she began to learn how to paint formally and became a student of Zhao Shao’ang, a master of the traditional Lingnan school of painting. In her traditional landscape and bird-and-flower paintings, Chou demonstrated a solid grounding in traditional Chinese painting methods such as qiyun (spirit-resonance) and moqi (ink-play).
Although Chou started her career working with more traditional Chinese painting methods and styles through landscape and bird-and-flower paintings, she later experimented with various techniques and paints as she moved away from more conventional ink paintings and the popular Lingnan style. In the late 1960s, Chou began studying the progressive theories on art and ink painting. Her colleague Lui Shou-Kwan of the Lingnan School inspired her to experiment with different techniques and various types of paint, including oil, acrylic and watercolor. Chou explored the “splash ink” technique, the layered “piled ink” technique, and pointillism in her works in the 1970s. However, her signature mark became the “one-stroke” technique she applied to her abstract paintings, which was reminiscent of the New Ink style that was becoming popular in Hong Kong in the 1980s. Through her work, she attempted to combine Western and Chinese art while simultaneously paying homage to Chinese traditional art. Irene Chou was the Hong Kong representative for the United Nation's Women's Liberation.
In 1991, Chou experienced a life threatening stroke. After recovery, she relocated to Brisbane in Australia in the 1990s to further refocus on painting. She is a recipient of the Hong Kong Urban Council Fine Arts Award. After Chou’s relocation to Australia, she experienced a significant improvement in her mental state, which can be seen from her later works. Her style evolved in tandem to become more vibrant and bright with broader calligraphy strokes depicting the same ethereal themes and motifs.