Robert Ballagh: a reluctant memoir

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Robert Ballagh is Ireland's most successful and controversial living artist. Making his name as a Pop artist in the late 1960s and 70s, he quickly achieved an international reputation. With only little formal artistic training he triumphed in his field despite often formidable hostility. His work was also strikingly topical and political, playing with classic images by Goya or Delacroix to express outrage about the situation in Northern Ireland, and addressing events such as Bloody Sunday in Derry.

But it is his series of realistic portraits that have won him lasting fame. His paintings of writers, politicians and his fellow artists and of himself are often fiercely inquisitive and moving in equal measure. Some of the most recognisable Irish images from the last half century come from Ballagh's studio: his portraits of Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney and Samuel Beckett. His portraits of Francis Crick (the latter unveiled by the Queen in 2016) and of Harold Pinter and Fidel Castro have won international acclaim. A fascinating, honest and unvarnished memoir, this is also a remarkable story of Ireland over the past sixty years, its violence, hypocrisy and immobility as well as its creativity and generosity.

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