Robert Ballagh


Life
1943- ; starting drawing at school; ed. Bolton St., Dublin, where he studied architecture, but discontinued; worked as engineering draughtsman and later freelance designer; became a band musician, at first with The Wolverines, later with The Chessmen; started painting in 1966; held his first one-man show and travelled to the Paris Biennale, 1969; appt. chairman Assoc. of Artists of Ireland, and cultural div. of ITGWU; attended the first Féile an Phobal (W. Belfast) on invitation of Gerry Adams, 1988, and judged mural art in Republican Belfast; accused by Irish Minister Dessie O'Malley of giving comfort to the IRA while acting as Chairmanship of 75th Anniversary Committee of the 1916 Rising in 1991;
 
designed stage-sets for Riverdance, Endgame (Gate), and Salomé (Gate) retrospective show held at RHA, Oct. 2006, with interview-feature by John Kelly on RTÉ “The Present View” [arts programme] (16 Oct. 2006); member of Aosdána, and active spokesman of socialist Republicanism; has served on Irish Arts Council and advisory committee to Municipal Gallery; achieved campaigned successfully for legislation bestowing a percentage of resale value of their works on artists; exhibited his work at the David Hendriks Gallery up to the death of the proprietor in 1980. WJM

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Works
‘Fuller Reconsidered: Socialism and the Aesthetic Dimension’, in The Crane Bag, Vol. 7, No. 1 [Socialism And Culture] (1983), pp.89-92.

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Criticism
Ciaran Carty, Robert Ballagh (Dublin: Magill 1986), 223p, ill.; Ballagh, Robert Ballagh on Stage (Dublin: Project Arts Centre 1990); Roderic Knowles, Contemporary Irish Art (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1982).

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Commentary
Mic Moloney, interview-article on Robert Ballagh, in The Irish Times (11 April 2000) in which Moloney writes: ‘Few Irish artists have attracted such vitriol down the years as Robert Ballagh, yet unlike many of his generation - people who have rounded furiously on their former radicalism - Ballagh has stuck to his socialist and republican principles. But if you think he has been marginalised, don’t forget he’s also the man who designed our paper money.’

Further, ‘It’s almost strange these days to think that Ballagh’s paintings, often featuring his own image, were ubiquitous in the 1970s; big Photorealist canvases which brought both humour and a Pop sensibility to Irish and European history painting.’ Moloney Cites his design of the Riverdance set and travels with it to Broadway and Hamburg; also set for Berkoff/Gate Salomé (opening again on inst.); McGovern’s one-man Beckett piece I’ll Go On, for Michael Colgan (Gate); work for Dubbeljoint (Belfast), incl. play Blinds; asked by Gerry Adams to judge a mural contest in W. Belfast [1988].
On Blinds: ‘As long as I know where someone is coming from, I don’t care if it’s one-sided, because you can make your own judgement - it’s only the phoneys who pretend they’re objective.’ Ballagh completed a portrait of Charles Haughey and is working on a autobiographical painting, ‘a kind of fun picture, taken with a very old Box Brownie. And there’s lots of references all over the place, political things […]’; Ballagh showed at the David Hendricks Gallery up to his death, and after that has found no need of an agent; never invited to show anywhere since 1980.
‘The 1980s was my museum time’; second western artist to have a retrospective in Moscow’, after Francis Bacon; invited with Noel Browne to discuss peaChairmanship of 75th Anniversary Committee of the 1916 Rising in 1991 ace in Moscow during glasnost; chaired meeting with Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Graham Greene and Mahmoud Darwish; nd received death-threats by phone; accused by Dessie O’Malley and others of providing “aid and comfort” to the IRA.
‘A ceasefire would never have been possible if the poisonous and hostile atmosphere had persisted, together with censorship - that whole marginalising of policy which was I think the maddest thing that was ever dreamt up.’ ‘On the Belfast Agreement, I think the Irish people were duped, basically … it was based on a fundamental fudge [...] You didn’t need to be a genius to realise that they [Adams and Trimble] couldn’t be right.’

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Quotations
Cultural identity: ‘I believe that earnestly questing for an Irish cultural identity can be counter-productive. I am certain that a distinctive identity will surface quite naturally if the artist speaks with his/her own voice about his/her own experience and environment.’ (Quoted in Richard Kearney, Across the Frontiers: Ireland in the 1990s, 1988, and cited in Ciaran Carson, ‘Music, mediation, and the Irish psyche’, in Irish Journal of Psychology, ed., Halliday and Coyle, eds., ‘The Irish Psyche’ [special issue] 15, 2 & 3, 1994, p.335.)

Ballagh on Feile an Phobal (West Belfast, 1988): ‘It was a matter of great surprise to me that a community that was described as “a terrorist community” was keen to turn to the arts as an antidote to that perceived image, I thought that was a wonderful thing [...]’ (Ballagh, quoted in Diarmait Mac Giolla Chriost, Jailtacht: The Irish Laguage, Symbolic Power and Political Violence in Northern Ireland, 1972-2008 (Wales UP 2012), p.123; citing in McMillen, 2009, p.12)

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