Bond Street & 64th Street, Southwest Corner

Monday, April 19, 2010

Darragh Park July 24, 1939 — April 17, 2009

Originally posted April 17, 2010

Darragh Park, April 8, 2005 (photo by Richard Howe)

A year ago today Darragh Park, artist, friend, inspiration, took his own life.

He always said he would, when the time came that he could no longer manage living at home, and, apparently, that time had come.

In the time that I knew Darragh he became one of my closest friends, even though almost all of our friendship was conducted by telephone.

We talked every Sunday morning, starting at 10 AM, for about two hours, sometimes more, sometimes less. We talked at other times too, and sometimes he came into the city and we met, and sometimes I visited him at his home in Bridgehampton / Water Mill, out on Long Island.

One Night the Empire State Building was Blue (watercolor on paper,
51.25" x 33.875"), 1995 © Darragh Park

But the backbone of our friendship was the Sunday morning telephone conversation. We talked about everything, more or less, but especially art, music, and poetry.

Darragh was a terrific painter, very much in the style of Fairfield Porter, whom he'd known early on in his career as an artist, though with an eye and a sensibility all his own.

Later, he became much more radical, and began to paint on a very large scale — his masterpiece, if I may call it that, was a 7' x 70' canvas called "440" (which had been his Manhattan address on 22nd Street) in which his attempts to catch on canvas the moment at which perception is coalescing but has not yet quite coalesced into a meaningful gestalt were extended, owing to the sheer size of the canvas, into a "real time" experience as well as a represented one.

("440" is, alas, simply too large to reproduce meaningfully within the scale constraints of this blog.)

Naturally such things — there were others, on a somewhat smaller scale — were the end of his standing in the art world, but Darragh, though disappointed, took this in stride. It was the price of being himself and he was willing to pay it.

The composer Bernard Rands once said to me, over more than a few pints in a pub in Shepherd's Bush — now more than forty years ago, this was — that it was easy to be avant garde at twenty but a lot harder to be avant garde at fifty (I was myself 22 at the time). Darragh went that one better and was avant garde at sixty and beyond — an amazing achievement albeit a difficult one to get recognition for.

Winter '97 (mixed media, 7' x 11'), 1997 © Darragh Park

Darragh's late "big" works developed concurrently with his new-found enthusiasm for the music of Morton Feldman, and we spent untold hours discussing Feldman's music and his writings about music and about painting.

He saw an analogy, a very clear and straightforward analogy, between his interest in the moment in which perception is coalescing but has not yet quite coalesced into a meaningful gestalt and Feldman's interest in the threshold between silence and sounding and with the beauty of sound itself.

One might say that in both cases the interest was in the moment at which the visible or the audible per se is seen or heard without the intermediation of meaning, the moment just before it is subjugated to what the eye or the ear already knows, the moment at which it is perceived but not yet read (if such a moment exists, the possibility of such a moment being perhaps the utopian moment in both Darragh's and Feldman's works).

Darragh was also very taken with the scale of the late Feldman pieces, the six hour string quartet and any of the other multi-hour works. I went with Darragh one evening to hear a multi-hour hour Feldman piece at Cooper Union and the sight of Darragh's face as his involvement with the gradual unfolding of the music deepened was of a beauty on par with the music itself.

Detail from Winter '97 (mixed media), 1997 © Darragh Park

Out of our conversations about these big pieces — both his and Feldman's — emerged many of the ideas that led to New York in Plain Sight.

Darragh knew or had known everyone, or so it seemed, at least everyone in the "New York School" in 1960s and after. Most of all, he had known the poet James Schuyler — he was Schuyler's literary executor — and Darragh and I actually met the first time on account of a number of drawings that I had made that were based on texts of Schuyler's.

So we talked a lot about Schuyler's poetry, but also about Frank O'Hara's and John Ashberry's, and about Kenneth Koch and Kenward Elmslie — and Joe Brainard too, as a writer as well as an artist.

And OULIPO — Darragh was big fan of the OULIPO group, and had known some of its members, especially Harry Matthews, and was full of stories about them.

And Proust, Proust, Proust, endless conversations about Proust. Darragh read French fluently and knew great swaths of A la recherche du temps perdu by heart, which he would quote — or was he reading? I'll never know now — at length and with great pleasure.

Summer '96, fragment 1 (watercolor on paper, 16" x 20"),
1996 © Darragh Park

But gradually he began to slip away from us, and then all of a sudden he was gone.

[Images of Darragh Park's paintings used with permission of the Executors of the Estate of Darragh Park]


  1. Thanks for this Richard. I wanted to mark the anniversary. You've done it beautifully and with Darragh. Tom C

  2. Dear Richard,
    This is a beautiful piece about a great guy, a wonderful painter and a dear friend. We used to visit Darragh often from the city, my family and I, until my son got older and weekends became filled with soccer or baseball and then we saw much less of him. There wasn't anything to be done.I missed him and all his very humane qualities. I never got to say goodbye. This is my opportunity. Love to you Darragh, and thanks Richard. Eric Holzman