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 St Derek of Dungeness (1991). Image © Ed Sykes

St Derek of Dungeness (1991). Image © Ed Sykes

Derek Jarman in all his glory

‘Friends of Derek’, the latest exhibition at Norman Road’s Lucy Bell Gallery, is a joyous celebration of the filmmaker, artist and activist Derek Jarman, writes A. Vasudevan. Featuring predominantly unseen images by friends and fellow filmmakers, the show supports the Art Fund’s campaign to save Jarman’s beloved Prospect Cottage and garden in Dungeness, currently under threat.

Renaissance man Jarman purchased what was a Victorian fisherman’s hut in 1986, while visiting the area. He transformed it into a sanctuary not just for himself, but for friends, family and fellow creatives who came to the cottage to collaborate with him. It was here that he wrote some of his most interesting work, filmed The Garden, starring muse Tilda Swinton, and designed and planted, along with Howard Sooley, his wonderful garden on the stark shingle beach.

Over the years, the house and garden have drawn visitors from all over the world to this remote, beautiful landscape, overshadowed by the nearby nuclear power station.

Jarman’s long-time companion, Keith Collins, to whom he bequeathed the cottage, died in 2018. Now Jarman’s legacy is under threat of being sold off privately, and Prospect Cottage’s contents dispersed. Unless, that is, the Art Fund achieves its aim of raising £3.5 million by 31 March, the funds to be used to purchase the cottage and permanently maintain and preserve the building, its contents and garden.

Through the partnership of the Art Fund, Creative Folkestone and Tate, there will be free public access to the garden, guided tours of the cottage and the establishment of artist residencies. Jarman’s archive, including sketchbooks and plans for the garden, will be made available to the public at Tate Britain. The Lucy Bell exhibition supports this endeavour.

‘Friends of Derek’, curated by Derek Brown, features work by Steve Pyke MBE, Richard Heslop, Ed Sykes, Andrew Catlin and Brown himself, among others. It’s an eclectic mix of images, showcasing the joy of friendship, the beauty of the landscape and the extent of Jarman’s generosity, influence and vision. Brown, who met Jarman in 1984, was the art director of The Garden, which was shot initially all over Dungeness and in the relatively new cottage garden.

His photographs are from that time, some featuring a blue overall-clad Jarman (see  image below), often filming with his Super 8mm camera. A particularly striking image recreates a dream and finds Jarman at dawn on an iron bed, surrounded by five dervishes, as the tide comes in.

As Brown says, ‘These previously unseen photographs … provide an insight into the unconventional way Derek worked when making his films and specifically show his freedom of expression when shooting at Dungeness.’

Derek Jarman in his distinctive blue overalls, Dungeness, 1989 © Derek Brown.

Derek Jarman in his distinctive blue overalls, Dungeness, 1989 © Derek Brown

Photographer Ed Sykes’ work focuses on a day in September 1991 when friends and family gathered at Prospect Cottage to see Jarman ‘canonised’ (see main image). He says: ‘The shrouded figure of Derek Jarman, accompanied by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, their habits billowing in the wind, made their way through the garden to an empty throne. It was here that St Derek was canonised surrounded by close friends in a ceremony full of warmth and love. From then on he became St Derek of the Order of Celluloid Knights of Dungeness.’

Filmmaker Richard Heslop met Jarman in the 1980s and collaborated with him on various projects, including the video for the Smiths’ iconic The Queen is Dead. The exhibition features a short film, Shooting the Hunter, which he made with Mark French, centering around some footage he shot of Jarman at work on The Garden, on which Heslop was also a cameraman.

Bathtime Prospect Cottage, 2020 © Richard Heslop

Bath time, Prospect Cottage, 2020 © Richard Heslop

‘It is an invocation of his cottage and garden in Dungeness,’ he says, ‘and of Derek himself, who is so woven into the fabric of the landscape and cottage that we all are trying to save for future artists and people to experience. It’s dedicated to Derek with love. He was a friend and mentor and I still miss him to this day.’

‘Friends of Derek’ runs from 29 February to 31 March 2020. It’s an intimate insight into arguably one of the most influential British cultural visionaries of the twentieth century – one honed by love, friendship and respect.

‘Friends of Derek (FOD)’: 29 February to 31 March, Tuesday to Saturday, 11am–4pm, Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, TN38 OEJ.

For information on how to support the Art Fund’s campaign to save Prospect Cottage – £3.5 million is needed by 31 March. 

 

Posted 17:42 Tuesday, Mar 10, 2020 In: Photography

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