Monday, February 9, 2009

Derek Jarman—Bohemian Auteur

Derek Jarman was an unconventional artist, writer, film maker, activist and gardener who passed away 15 years ago, this month, at age 52. This edgy and bohemian peacock was a key player in Britian’s alternative arts scene and led his life with courage and grace. The strong erotic, religious, iconoclastic, and anarchistic overtones of his work frequently shook the establishment. This peacock approached his artistic vision like it was a spiritual pursuit—fueled by cigarettes, vodka on ice, and an occasional hit of Ecstacy or acid.

Above left to right: Derek Jarman in the early 80's and in the 90's.

He was a self professed “auteur and oddball” who refused knighthood from Margaret Thatcher’s government because of the controversial Section 28. Mr. Jarman publicly disclosed his HIV+ status in 1986 and was one of the rare few, at that time, who talked openly about their experiences of HIV and AIDS.

Mr. Jarman's films include (clockwise from above right): Caravaggio, Sebastiane, and Wittgenstein.

He originally studied painting and then became a set designer, which led him to make his own films. Mr. Jarman left a substantial body of experimental independent work that includes: Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1979), Caravaggio (1986), Wittgenstein (1993), Blue (1994), and Mr. Peacock’s favorite, Edward II (1992)— which has a cameo with Annie Lennox. Click here for a complete Derek Jarman filmography.


The Queen is Dead video Mr. Jarman directed for The Smiths in 1986.

Mr. Jarman felt that he “found his voice in the 1980’s” and a way of working that expressed his creativity and artistic vision. He directed many iconic music videos for Throbbing Gristle, The Smiths and The Pet Shop Boys.


Mr. Jarman thought the Pet Shop Boys video, It’s a Sin, was one of the best things he’d ever done.


Mr. Jarman’s garden in Dungeness is not open to the public, however, it’s been besieged by thousands of fans each year, since his death, who come to view it's bleak beauty. The video (above) was made by two Derek Jarman fans who filmed their pilgrimage to Prospect Cottage, and added the soundtrack, "I Walk in This Garden," words by Derek Jarman and hauntingly sung by Donna McKevitt.

In his last years, Mr. Jarman lived and worked at Prospect Cottage, next to a nuclear power plant in Dungeness, England. He saw his first movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” when he was a small child and it frightened him immensely. Mr. Jarman compared his cottage at Dungeness to Dorthy’s house in “The Wizard of Oz” and the power plant to the Emerald City.

At the cottage, Derek Jarman created his own mythology with his unusual garden landscapes. Mr. Peacock adores the exterior color palette of the cottage, black with yellow trim, against the colors and textures of his windswept garden.

For Burberry’s Spring 2009 Menswear Collection (above), English fashion designer, Christopher Bailey, imagined what Derek Jarman would have worn while he was gardening at Dungeness. The dour color palette of this collection is also inspired by the tones of Jarman’s windswept garden and includes: moss, stone, peat, bark. And of course the collection included variations of the floppy Panama hat worn by Mr. Jarman.


In 1991, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence canonized Derek Jarman as St. Derek of Dungeness of the Order of Celluloid Knights. His friends included the artist and peacock David Hockney, artist Robert Mapplethorpe, designer Ossie Clark, actor Tilda Swinton and Julian Sands, and many other members of the creative avante-garde. Tilda Swinton wrote, narrated and coproduced the recent documentary, Derek, which is a loving tribute to her friend and mentor. There are also many great books about Derek Jarman's life, artwork, films, and of course is eponymous garden. Mr. Peacock salutes Mr. Jarman for his artwork, courage, uncompromising life and continued inspiration. Thank you Derek Jarman!

3 comments:

kelly jo said...

as a san franciscan living in nigeia, i can't tell you how much fun it is to read about all this history and passion. thank you, thank you...

david john said...

thank you for this posting on derek jarman. he was the first artist i fell in love with, and i quickly absorbed his films and books....

he was such a huge inspiration and im glad to see his legacy still lives on.

its always funny for me to look at tilda swinton and to see what a star she has become, b/c i connected with her in those early films of derek.


great blog!

APL said...

thanks for the great overview/hitory of an interesting person/artist.