Derek Jarman (1942–1994) was one of the most unique British
artists of the second half of the twentieth century. That he is now
best remembered as either a challenging filmmaker or an
innovative gardener attests to the striking range of his
achievements. Jarman was also an accomplished painter,
acclaimed set designer for theatre and film, brilliant writer of
memoir, and fierce activist for gay rights. Born in Northwood,
Middlesex, he was a boarder at Canford School in Dorset, before
studying at University of London, first at King’s College London
(a general degree in English, Art History and History) and then
the Slade School of Fine Arts at University College London
(specializing in theatre design). His academic and artistic interests
were always close and when at King’s, he designed sets for
student performances, produced covers for the student magazine,
and continued to paint regularly and exhibit his work. Also at
King’s, his immersion in medieval and Renaissance literature
and history, among other subjects, helped shape the intellectual
interests that he would pursue throughout his career across
After leaving the Slade, Jarman was taken seriously as an up-and-
coming young artist to watch. His paintings were purchased for
national collections and he was commissioned to design sets at
Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Opera House, among other
important cultural institutions. His designs for The Royal Ballet’s
Jazz Calendar (1968), choreographed by Frederick Ashton, were
particularly well received, and he went on to design for film,
opera, theatre and live performance throughout his career,
if not frequently.
In the 1970s, Jarman lived along the river Thames, in a number of
different warehouse studios at Upper Ground, Bankside and
finally Butler’s Wharf. Jarman and a few friends, including the
sculptor Peter Logan, were among the first artists to begin to
settle on the South Bank, which, by the end of the decade, had
become an important creative area for artists of all kinds. It was
in these warehouses that Jarman made a breakthrough in his own
artistic practice and development, when he began to produce
Super 8 films using an inexpensive, hand-held camera, most often
working collaboratively with friends and fellow artists. For
Jarman, the Super 8s allowed him to ‘paint’ but in and through
a different medium and technology. The large number of films
he shot over the next 10–15 years constitute an enormously
significant part of his œuvre, demonstrating his ever-increasing
sophistication at layering image, sound and text in provocative
and beautiful ways. His proximity to the river was clearly key,
and the image of water, with its continual movement and
reflection, remained a significant symbolic image, particularly
in his film work.
Jarman’s first two feature films – Sebastiane (1976) and Jubliee
(1978) – demonstrate the range of Jarman’s imagination and
interests. Sebastiane is a deeply homoerotic reimagining of the life
and death of the martyr Saint Sebastian, a figure with a
particular prominence in the history of queer male iconography,
with all dialogue in Latin; Jubliee is a modern-day, punk-aesthetic
fable about the decline of imperial Britain, in which characters
from the Renaissance past – John Dee, Ariel, Queen Elizabeth I –
find themselves in the midst of a brutal, chaotic contemporary
London. This kind of engagement with Britain’s past was
common in his feature films, as we see in his visually stunning and
often radical visions of Shakespeare, in The Tempest (1979), in his
film of the sonnets, The Angelic Conversation (1985), and in his
version of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1991). He achieved
a certain amount of success in film festivals and even with the broad
‘art house’ public, but his work was never conventional and he
always remained outside the mainstream of the British film
industry, further outside than many other contemporary artist-
filmmakers, which brought with it both certain freedoms and
Jarman’s work frequently suggests an autobiographical
investment, perhaps particularly so after 1986 when he learned
that he was HIV+. An always outspoken and often lone public
voice in championing gay rights, he became ever more publically
engaged with queer politics during the premiership of Margaret
Thatcher. ‘I wouldn’t wish the eighties on anyone,’ Jarman writes
in the memoir about gay sexuality, At Your Own Risk (1992) and
‘it was the time when all that was rotten bubbled to the surface.’
His life increasingly becomes a subject in his films, though in non-
linear and often symbolic ways, as in the angry The Last of
England (1987) or The Garden (1989), his most autobiographical
film which acknowledges the importance to him, imaginatively
and otherwise, of his cottage at Dungeness on the coast of Kent.
His final and arguably most remarkable and personal film, Blue
(1993), is also his most formally simple: a blue screen, with no
images, and an extended poetic meditation about living with HIV,
with a haunting soundtrack by long-time collaborator, Simon
Words were as important to Jarman as images and he was forever
writing in all sorts of notebooks and sketchbooks. His notebooks
are full of references to writers whose work influenced him – the
Metaphysical poets, Shakespeare, William Blake, Alan Ginsburg,
among many others. A poem by John Donne adorns one outdoor
wall of his cottage at Dungeness, making his ‘home’ a kind of text
in telling ways. He also took great pleasure in the mechanics of
writing – its paper and ink – and wrote in an elegant, almost
calligraphic style. His published works, which include poetry,
memoir/diaries, autobiography, unrealized scripts and other
genre-bending works, offer us important insights to his thinking
and to his queer life as an artist over a number of decades. Much
of his later writings provide boldly honest accounts of what it is
like to live with HIV-related illnesses – to lose one’s sight, for
example. Jarman’s body of literary work – most of which remains
in print – complements his film work, and the two should be read
alongside one another, giving us a compelling vision of an artist
working across disciplines.
When Jarman died of AIDS-related causes in 1994, he left behind
him a rich and varied body of work that now, twenty years later,
we are beginning to reappraise in its totality. Jarman2014 provides
new readers and viewers the opportunity to engage for the first
time, and it allows those already familiar with his work to re-
engage once more with this most British, queer and original
Mark W. Turner
Electric Fairy, c.1970, 16 mm
Studio Bankside, 1970–72,
Super 8, col. and b/w
The Siren and the Sailor, 1972
(aka At Low Tide), Super 8, col.
I’m Ready For My Close Up, 1972 (aka Miss
Gaby Gets it Together or All Our Yesterdays),
Super 8, col.
Andrew Logan Kisses the Glitterati, 1973, Super 8, col.
Andrew, 1973, Super 8, col.
Red Movie, 1973 (aka Tourist Film), Super 8, col. shot through red filter
Stolen Apples for Karen Blixen, 1973, Super 8, b/w
Gerald Plants a Flower, 1973,
Gerald Takes a Photo, 1973,
Tarot, 1973 (aka The Magician), Super 8, col.
Garden of Luxor, 1973 (aka A Garden in Luxor), Super 8, col.
Kevin Whitney, 1973, Super 8, col.
The Art of Mirrors, 1973,
Super 8, col.
Beyond the Valley of the Garden of Luxor Revisited, 1973, Super 8, col.
Burning of Pyramids, 1973,
Super 8, col.
Death Dance, 1973, Super 8, col.
Arabia, 1973, Super 8, col. and b/w
Green Glass Bead Game, 1973, Super 8, col.
Sulphur, 1973, Super 8, col.
A Journey to Avebury, 1973,
Super 8, col.
Ashden’s Walk on Møn, 1973, (aka Walk on Mon or Space Travel, A Walk with Mon), Super 8, col.
Shad Thames, 1973, Super 8, b/w
Café in Tooley Street, 1973,
Super 8, col.
Miss World, 1973, Super 8,
b/w and shot through pink filter
Fred Aston Fashion Show, 1974, Super 8, col.
Bill Gibb Show, 1974, Super 8, col.
Duggie Fields at Home, 1974
(aka Duggie Fields), Super 8, col.
Picnic at Ray’s, 1974 (aka Picnic at Rae’s or Lunch
Super 8, col.
Herbert in NYC, 1974 (aka New York Walk Don’t Walk), Super 8, col.
New York City, 1974 (aka NYC),
Super 8, b/w
Dinner and Diner, 1974, Super 8, b/w.
The Devils at the Elgin, 1974 (aka Reworking the Devils),
Super 8, b/w
Fire Island, 1974, Super 8, col.
My Very Beautiful Movie, 1974, Super 8, col.
The Kingdom of Outremer, 1974, Super 8, col.
In the Shadow of the Sun, 1974/1980, 50 min., Super 8 blown up to 16 mm in 1980, col.
Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own, 1974–76, (aka Removal Party), Super 8, col.
Corfe Film, 1975 (aka Troubadour Film), Super 8, col.
Ken Hicks, 1975, Super 8, col.
Sebastian Wrap, 1975 (aka Sebastiane Mirror Film or Mirrors or A Break from Sebastiane), Super 8 blown up to 16 mm in 1981, col.
Karl at Home, 1975, Super 8, b/w
Gerald’s Film, 1975, Super 8, col.
The Sex Pistols in Concert, 1976, Super 8, b/w,
Ula’s Fête, 1976
(aka Ula’s Chandelier)
Houston Texas, 1976, Super 8, col.
The Sea of Storms, 1976 (aka Kingdom) Super 8, b/w
Sebastiane, 1976, 16 mm blown up to 35 mm, col.
Jordan’s Dance, 1977, Super 8, col., sections included in Jubilee
Jordan’s Jubilee Mask, 1977 (aka Jean-Marc Makes a Mask), Super 8, b/w
Art and the Pose, 1977 (aka Arty the Pose), Super 8, b/w, later blown up to 16 mm and included in The Dream Machine, 1986
Every Woman for Herself and All for Art, 1978, Super 8, b/w, blown up to 16 mm in 1981
The Fountain, 1978, Super 8, col.
The Pantheon, 1978, Super 8, col.
Italian Street Scene, 1978, Super 8, col.
Italian Ruins, 1978, Super 8, col.
Jubilee, 1978, 35 mm, col.
Broken English: Three Songs by Marianne Faithfull, 1979, 12 min., Super 8 and 16 mm blown up to 35 mm, col. and b/w, includes ‘Witches Song’, ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’, and ‘Broken English’
The Tempest, 1979, 35 mm, col.
Throbbing Gristle, T.G.: Psychic Rally in Heaven, 1981, 8min., Super 8 blown up to 16 mm, col.
Jordan’s Wedding, 1981,
Super 8, col.
Rake’s Progress, 1982, Super 8, col.
Pontormo and Punks at Santa Croce, 1982, Super 8, col.
B2 Movie, 1982, Super 8 transferred to video, col. and b/w
Waiting for Waiting for Godot, 1982, Super 8
col. and b/w
Pirate Tape, 1982, Super 8 later transferred to video and 16 mm
Ken’s First Film, 1982, Super 8, col.
Diese Machine ist Mein Antihumanistiches Kunstwerk, 1982, Super 8, b/w
Home Movie Dong, 1983 (aka The Dong with
the Luminous Nose), unfinished Super 8 with
Barcelona Man, 1984, Super 8,
col. and b/w
Oxford Medley Show, 1984, Super 8, col.
Imagining October, 1984, Super 8 and video blown up to 16 mm,
col. and b/w
The Angelic Conversation, 1985 (released 1987), 35 mm, col. and b/w
Short sequence for ‘Action Against Aids’ gala performance of Walter Reynolds’s Young England at the Adelphi Theatre, 18 June 1986, Super 8
The Queen Is Dead: A Film by Derek Jarman, 1986, Super 8 edited onto video and blown up to 35 mm, col. and b/w, includes ‘The Queen is Dead’, ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ and ‘Panic’
The Dream Machine, 1986, video, col.
Caravaggio, 1986, 35 mm, col.
‘Depuis le Jour’, segment in Aria, 1987, Super 8 and 35 mm, col. and b/w
L’Ispirazione, 1988, (sequence) Super 8 edited on video and blown up to 35 mm, col.
The Last of England, 1987, 35 mm and Super 8, col. and b/w
War Requiem, 1989, 35 mm, col. and b/w
Highlights: Pet Shop Boys on Tour, 1990
The Garden, 1990, 35 mm and Super 8, col. and b/w
Edward II, 1991, 35 mm, col.
Projections, 1993, video, col. and b/w
Wittgenstein, 1993, 35 mm, col.
Blue, 1993, 35 mm, col.
Glitterbug, 1994, Arena special drawn from Super 8 mm films shot between 1971 and 1988, blown up to 35 mm, col. and b/w
The Lords of the New Church, ‘Dance with Me’, 1983, video, col.
Wang Chung, ‘Dance Hall Days’, 1983, video, col.
Carmel, ‘Willow Weep for Me’, 1984, 16 mm, col.
Language, ‘Touch the Radio “Dance”’, 1984, video, col.
Billy Hyena, ‘Wide Boy Awake’, 1984, 16 mm, col.
Jordi Vallis, ‘Catalan’, 1984, 16 mm, col.
Orange Juice, ‘What Presence?’, 1984, 16 mm, col.
Marc Almond, ‘Tenderness is a Weakness’, 1984, video, 16 mm col.
Bryan Ferry, ‘Windswept’, 1985, 16 mm, col.
Untitled promotional film for Matt Fretton, 1986, Super 8
The Smiths, ‘Ask’, 1986, Super 8, col.
Easterhouse, ‘Whistling in the Dark’, 1986, Super 8, col. and b/w
Easterhouse, ‘1969’, 1986, Super 8, col. and b/w
The Mighty Lemon Drops, ‘Out of Hand’, 1987, Super 8 and 16 mm, col.
Bob Geldof, ‘I Cry Too’, 1987, Super 8 and 8 mm video, col.
Bob Geldof, ‘In the Pouring Rain’, 1987, Super 8 and 8 mm video, col.
Pet Shop Boys, ‘It’s a Sin’, 1987, 35 mm and Super 8, col.
Pet Shop Boys, ‘Rent’, 1987,
35 mm and Super 8, col. and b/w
Backdrops for Pet Shop Boys Concert, 1989, eight short films made as backdrop projections for the 1989 Pet Shop Boys Tour, Super 8 and 16 mm blown up to 70mm, col. and b/w, includes ‘Opportunities’, ‘Heart’, ‘Paninaro’, ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’, ‘It’s a Sin’, ‘Domino Dancing’, ‘King’s Cross’, and ‘Always on my Mind’
Patti Smith, ‘Little Emerald Bird’, 1993, Super 8, col.
Suede, ‘The Next Life’, 1993,
Super 8, col.
Filmography taken from
Derek Jarman’s Sketchbooks,
Edited by Stephen Farthing
and Ed Webb-Ingall
(Thames & Hudson, 2013)
A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, Bettiscombe Press, Dorset, 1972. Collection of 32 poems. Designed by John Miles. Illustrated.
Dancing Ledge, Quartet Books, London, 1984. Edited by Shaun Allen. Illustrated.
Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio, Thames & Hudson, London, 1986. With special photography by Gerald Incandela.
The Last of England, Constable, London, 1987. Edited by David L. Hirst. Illustrated.
War Requiem, Faber & Faber, London, 1989. Introduction by Don Boyd. Photographs by David Bramley.
Modern Nature: the Journals of Derek Jarman, Century, London, 1991. Illustrated.
Queer Edward II, BFI Publishing, London, 1991.Written by Derek Jarman, Stephen McBride, Ken Butler & Tilda Swinton. Edited by Keith Collins & Malcolm Sutherland. Slogans by Greg Taylor. Slogan design by Derek Westwood. Photographs by Liam Longman & Jacqueline Lucas-Palmer. Designed by Malcolm Sutherland.
At Your Own Risk: A Saint’s Testament, Hutchinson, London, 1992. Edited by Michael Christie. Illustrated.
Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script, The Derek Jarman Film, BFI Publishing, London, 1993. Preface by Colin MacCabe. Introduction to Wittgenstein & Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Terry Eagleton Script by Terry Eagleton. This is Not a Film of Ludwig Wittgenstein by Derek Jarman. Wittgenstein: The Derek Jarman Film by Derek Jarman & Ken Butler. Photographs by Howard Sooley.
Blue: Text of a film by Derek Jarman, Channel 4 Television & BBC Radio 3, London, 1993. (Published in America by Overlook Press, in Turkey by Nisan Yayinlari & in a special limited edition by Richard Salmon.)
Chroma: A Book of Colour - June ‘93, Century, London, 1994.
Derek Jarman’s Garden, Thames & Hudson, London, 1995. With photographs by Howard Sooley.
Up in the Air: Collected Film Scripts, Vintage, London, 1996. Introduction by Michael O ‘Pray.
Smiling in Slow Motion, Century, London, 2000.
With thanks to Tony Peake for assistance with compiling.
Derek Jarman, photo © Ray Dean
Jarman2014 is a year-long celebration of the life and work of Derek Jarman (1942–1994). Artist and queer activist, filmmaker and set designer, writer and memoirist, painter and poet – Jarman’s extraordinary body of work was at the forefront of creative practice for three decades. With a range of exhibitions, screenings and retrospectives, readings, commissions and other events at a variety of London’s most significant cultural institutions, Jarman2014 revisits the artist and his work, twenty years after his death from AIDS-related causes.
Loved the #Jarman2014 exhibition at @somersethouse, very powerful and super inspiring. So glad I made it. http://t.co/a0wPY3mqNG@HelloMozart
#Jarman2014 was such a powerful exhibition. I burst into tears watching Garden Of Luxor. Thank you @somersethouse http://t.co/fFQwkTnI73@HelloMozart