Robert Ballagh The Conversation, 1977
Robert Ballagh

From the 1970s until today, Robert Ballagh has been one of the best-known artists in Ireland. Maybe the first to adopt and develop the Pop Art style in painting, his engagement with the popular role of art has since led him to work in stamp and currency design, illustration, book design and in particular design for the theatre. This first major survey of his work in Ireland will represent the full range of his artistic production.

The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to see the work of one of Ireland’s most important and influential contemporary artists. A career spanning over four decades will be surveyed through an exciting and innovative layout, designed to take the viewer through the journey of the artist’s career.

Using a specially co-ordinated team of theatre set builders, Ballagh will transform the RHA space into a labyrinth of rooms, which, while arranged in chronological order, will in themselves illustrate separate eras of his life and career. The exhibition will include over 80 works dating from the late 1960’s to the present, borrowed from diverse private and public collections. Offering the opportunity to view a broad selection of Ballagh’s work, many pieces in the show have rarely been seen before. Ranging from paintings responding to Ireland’s history to portraits of notable figures, the show will include portraits of Charles Haughey, Bernadette Greevy, Micheal O’Riordan, Noel Brown and James Plunkett. Alongside these will be shown the original artwork for almost 70 stamps created for An Post, the Irish punt notes and set designs for numerous theatrical productions, including the globally successful Riverdance.

Ballagh’s introduction to the world of visual art was as an assistant to the painter Micheal Farrell, following which he soon established a reputation as one of Ireland’s leading modern figurative artists. As Ciaran Carty writes in the catalogue essay ÒHis career has been an ever-evolving journey of self-discovery as he developed his own visual language and found ways of applying it to the kind of things he wanted to do and say. It was a journey back to the future, reconnecting with the great traditions of western art but with the knowledge of what had happened since. Both in form and content his paintings reveal the dialectic of his own development as an artist in society. The layout of the exhibition for his retrospective is conceived as an expression of this journey, much as his portraits take the form of an inventory of their subject’s life.

A full colour catalogue, with an essay by Ciaran Carty and Declan Kiberd , will accompany this exhibition.

Robert Ballagh, Selected Works from his studio 1959 to 2006 can be seen at the Gory Gallery, 20 Molesworth Street from 20 September – 4 October.

Selection of images from the exhibition

Artist Bio

Born in Dublin in 1943, he studied at Bolton Street College of Technology and began painting in 1967 when he first exhibited as part of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. His work is represented in many important collections including the National Gallery of Ireland, The Ulster Museum, The Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Crawford Gallery and the Albrecht DŸrer House, Nuremberg. For 10 years he chaired the Irish National Congress, a non-party organisation working for peace in Northern Ireland, and he is currently president of the Ireland Institute, a centre for historical and cultural studies. He served as the first chairman of the Artists’ Association of Ireland when it was founded in 1981, and he is a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science.