Squeak Carnwath was born in Abington, Pennsylvania. After earning a Masters of Fine Arts from California College of Arts and Crafts in 1977, she began exhibiting her work in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she continues to live and work. Carnwath taught at the University of California from 1982-2010; she is Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.
Carnwath's work is exhibited widely and is in the collections of major institutions such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Brooklyn Museum. In 2009, the Oakland Museum of California organized a large survey of Carnwath's work, Squeak Carnwath: Painting is no Ordinary Object. Her work is shown at several galleries including John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco. Carnwath has received numerous awards including the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, two Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Award for Individual Artists from the Flintridge Foundation. In 1996, Chronicle Books published Squeak Carnwath: Lists, Observations, & Counting, a survey of Carnwath's work. In conjunction with her 2009 exhibition, the Oakland Museum of California published Squeak Carnwath: Painting is no Ordinary Object.