Ian Darragh
Contemporary Irish Artist, Biography, Paintings.

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For a general guide, see:
Postmodernist Art.
For late 20th century artworks,
see: Contemporary Art.

Ian Darragh (1959-2008)

There is a haunting yet monumental quality about the art of this man. Even his most straightforward pictures have a timeless complexity. His women have a Renaissance stillness about them, but with a modern twist: a sort of mysterious edginess. In a way, he does for portraiture what Giorgio de Chirico does for townscapes - he makes us aware of "something else." Many of Darragh's male portraits have a similar Renaissance aura about them, although both the examples shown here are strictly 20th century: shades of Raymond Chandler in Man Speaking on the Telephone, shades of Edward Hopper in Figure at a Window. In any event, a mastery of narrative is evident. Look closely at the mouth of L'Espanogla and see the anger and resignation of a proud woman. Look into the eyes of Man Speaking on the Telephone - have you ever seen a man so torn? These are complex works, magnificently rendered and deeply conceived. What a tragedy for art that Darragh's prime was restricted to the decade of his twenties, and that illness snuffed out any chance of a come-back.

For other modernists based in Ireland, see: Contemporary Irish Artists.
For the world's leading figures, see: Top 200 Contemporary Artists.




Ian David Darragh was born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Noted for his outstanding talent as a teenage artist, he won the Texaco Children's Art Competition in 1974, coming second in both 1975 and 1976, and was profiled briefly on BBC television. In 1976, after completing a foundation course at Jordanstown College of Art in Northern Ireland, he set off for London, where he took an Honours Degree in Fine Art at Hornsey College, receiving special commendations for Art History and Critical Studies.

Sadly, during this time, the two members of his family he was closest to - his mother Mary and his sister Colleen - both passed away, after which he never returned to Northern Ireland and maintained only intermittent contact with the rest of the family.


Following his success at Hornsey College of Art, Darragh won a coveted place at the Royal College of Art to study printmaking. Although by this time he was exhibiting his paintings and prints in a variety of venues both in the UK and abroad, it wasn't until he showed at the Royal College's exhibition of graduate works in 1984 that he received particular attention. Singled out for praise by the art critic of the Times Newspaper, Darragh's works were taken on by a number of London art venues, including the Mall Galleries and The Nicholas Treadwell Gallery. A succession of solo and group shows followed and for the next four years he worked as a full-time artist in London gaining significant recognition from critics and patrons alike.

Then, in late 1988, Darragh made what was to become a fateful decision: he emigrated to America to live with his girlfriend, soon to become his wife, and settled in New York where he resumed his painting.


Unfortunately, this move coincided with a collapse in the American art market and, to make matters worse, it became clear that New York dealers and patrons had much less time for figurative art than their counterparts in Europe. As a result, Darragh turned to commercial graphics to augment his income, becoming a freelance illustrator for publications like the New York Times Book Review. This lasted until 1994 when his marriage broke up, after which both his mood and creative output suffered a serious decline.

But by 1997 he had bounced back. He was painting again, had a solo show planned and things were looking up. Then in 1998 doctors diagnosed the early signs of Multiple Sclerosis, a condition which inexorably reduced his mobility and energy. He fought it steadfastly for the next decade, painting as long as he could hold a brush, until he finally passed away in a New York hospital in January 2008 at the age of 48.



A master of both printmaking and painting, Darragh used oils and acrylics with equal felicity, although all the works shown here are acrylics on canvas. His paintings reveal an outstanding flair for figurative modeling - a skill-level more often seen in sculptors than painters - as well as a particularly sensitive use of light, shadow and tonal variation for dramatic effect. But arguably his most arresting quality as a painter, is his ability to infuse his works with a peculiar blend of stillness and narrative. In this sense, he inhabits a sort of No Man's Land between Leonardo da Vinci and Edward Hopper, and it is this blend of contrasts that gives his works their unique monumentality. What he might have achieved, had fate not struck him down, is anybody's guess.

Fortunately, a special online archive of his complete works is preserved and can be viewed at: www.ian-darragh.com


Selected Art Exhibitions

Ian Darragh's artworks appeared in the following solo and group shows:

• 1980 - Stowell's Trophy Exhibition, London Royal Academy of Art.
• 1981 - Hornsey College of Art Degree Show, London.
• 1982 - Royal College of Art Exhibition of Graphics, Belgrade, Serbia.
• 1982 - Young English Printmakers, Sydney, Australia.
• 1983 - Sainsbury's "Images for Today", Sainsbury Centre, England.
• 1984 - Royal College of Art Degree Show, London.
• 1984 - Basel International Art Fair, Switzerland.
• 1984 - Christie's Inaugural Exhibition, London.
• 1984 - "Grandes et Jeunes D'Aujuord'hui", Grand Palais, Paris.
• 1985 - Royal College of Art Printmakers, Barbican Centre, London.
• 1985 - Athena International Art Awards, Mall Galleries, London.
• 1986 - Contemporary Arts Society's Art Market, London.
• 1987 - Bath Art Fair, Bath.
• 1987 - "Grandes et Jeunes D'Aujuord'hui", Grand Palais, Paris.
• 1987 - "Crusade", Aids Benefit Show, London, England
• 1987 - "La Nuova Maniera", Flaxman Gallery, London.
• 1987 - Paris Art Fair, Paris.
• 1988 - Group Show, Piccadilly Gallery, London.
• 1988 - New York Art Fair, New York City.
• 1988 - Circus Comes to Town, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, UK.
• 1990 - Group Show, Berkshire Artisans Gallery, Massachusetts.
• 1990 - Group Show, The Kraine Theatre Gallery, New York City.
• 1991 - Group Show, 288 Elizabeth Street, New York City.
• 1993 - Group Show, Clockwork & Chime Gallery, New York City.
• 1993 - Group Show, Gedney Farm Gallery, Massachusetts.
• 1997 - Observances, 55 Mercer Gallery, New York City.
• 1998 - Group Show, 26:21 Gallery, New York City.
• 1999 - Group Show, Elaine Somers Gallery, Belfast.
• 2000 - Group Show, James Gallery, Belfast.
• 2004 - Group Show, Fresh Art, Common Ground at Times Square, NYC.


Ian Darragh's works are represented in numerous private collections around the world.

For More Information

To read more about the extraordinary artworks of Ian Darragh, or to view the complete collection of his paintings, I strongly recommend that you visit: www.ian-darragh.com


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• For details of famous painters and sculptors from Ireland, see Irish Artists.

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