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 Ian Darragh  (1959 - 2008)

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Lived/Active: New York / England      Known for: figure, portrait, circus and interior scene painting, illustrations, prints

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Ian  Darragh
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information, submitted by Stephen Kramer, was written by Paula Teas, October 2008 ?New York City

Born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland in November 1959, Ian David Darragh was the fifth child of John Darragh, an Assistant Divisional Fire Officer, and Mary Weir. Very little is known about his childhood except for the certainty of his vocation to be an artist, and his apparent fascination with the Circus and horses as witnessed in his earliest known drawings. These are recurring themes throughout his entire body of work. Notable early achievements include winning the Texaco Children's Art Competition in 1974 (he was runner-up in 1975 and 1976) and a prime-time appearance on BBC Northern Ireland’s "Scene Around Six" where Ian, the young artist, was presented with an award by the Mayor of Larne.

Ian completed a foundation course at Jordanstown College of Art in Northern Ireland before setting off for London at the age of 17. From 1978 to 1981, he attended Hornsey College of Art, part of Middlesex Polytechnic, where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art with honors and two special commendations for Art History and Critical Studies. The years 1978 and 1979 brought about the deaths of both his mother and his sister, Colleen, two of his closest family members. These were his last visits to his native land; he maintained only sporadic communication with other members of his family thereafter.

In 1981, Ian was accepted by the prestigious Royal College of Art in its three-year printmaking degree program. In 1984, he achieved his Master’s Degree of Fine Arts in Printmaking and Painting. While exhibiting some of his work in the Royal College of Art Degree Show in 1984, Ian’s paintings gained attention and were received very favorably by a London Times critic who was reviewing the show. The resulting publicity created a stir as well as a sold-out show - almost immediately his work was picked up by the Mall Galleries in London and subsequently The Nicholas Treadwell Gallery. From that time forward, painting became his major focus although he was always proud of his printmaking work.

After graduating from the Royal College of Art, Ian worked as an independent painter in London until 1988. Highlights during this period were a cover and feature article about his work in Art Line International Art News magazine in 1986 as well as exhibitions throughout England and Europe. His career as a painter was flourishing, he was gaining a fine reputation, and he struggled to produce enough artwork to meet the demands of his dealers and patrons. A glorious future seemed in store.

In late 1988, Ian suddenly decided to immigrate to the United States to be reunited with an American girlfriend (and future wife), Susan Sears, whom he had met during her visit to London in 1987. During his first year in the United States, he painted and designed sets for the Berkshire Public Theatre. He and Sears married in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, and made plans to relocate to New York City.

In 1989, Ian made New York City his permanent home. He loved the city and quickly acclimatized to the lifestyle; he was particularly fond of the East Village with its bohemian atmosphere. He resumed his painting career in a time when the art market in New York had virtually collapsed and figurative painting was out of fashion. He found himself unable to make the same types of connections or generate the same level of demand that had seemed so effortless in London. He became somewhat ambivalent about promoting his work – possibly the result of his earlier successes having come so easily. He supplemented his painting income with freelance illustrating for the New York Times Book Review from 1989 to 1994. His marriage ended in late 1994.

In 1995 and 1996 after the breakup of his marriage and a subsequent parting with a girlfriend, Ian endured a long period of depression during which he produced very little work. In 1997, he resumed painting with renewed energy and enthusiasm, and had an upcoming solo-exhibition in the works. In this year his divorce became official.

In 1998, he was optimistic about his career and future prospects, but a doctor noticed the early signs of Multiple Sclerosis. His dragging leg was a symptom of progressive MS. For the next couple of years, he continued working while taking better care of his health through diet and other natural remedies; his MS progressed at a fairly moderate pace, resulting in the need for a cane to assist him walking. During this time he had some success exhibiting in Europe - the only place he felt his work was truly appreciated, having concluded that his work was "too old-world" for New York.

By 2001, the effects of the progressing Multiple Sclerosis decreased his overall energy dramatically, resulting in blurred vision and increasing tremors - he produced no major works during this time frame. Ian was determined to defy the debilitating effects of the disease by continuing to paint albeit on a limited basis. By 2003, he was unable to walk steadily and traded his cane for a wheelchair. During this period, his work was promoted by the National MS Society in the US.

In April 2005, Ian had a terrible accident after falling from his wheelchair which required an emergency amputation of his right leg. Due to complications during surgery, the continuing onslaught of MS, and poor results from rehabilitative therapy, he became bedridden and lost the use of his right hand entirely. His inability to produce artwork saddened him immensely. He remained at his home until his final weeks and died peacefully in a New York City hospital in late January 2008.

Ian will always be remembered for his charm, wit, intellect, perfect diction, good looks and unique personality, on top of his abiding dedication to his art - despite his difficult personal circumstances.

Fortunately, his artwork lives on in his wonderful paintings, drawings and prints.

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