Irish Museum of Modern Art opens a major retrospective of the work of Derek Jarman
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Irish Museum of Modern Art opens a major retrospective of the work of Derek Jarman
Journey to Avebury, 1971, still from Super8 film, courtesy LUMA Foundation.

DUBLIN.- IMMA is presenting PROTEST!, a major retrospective of the work of one of the most influential figures in 20th century British culture, Derek Jarman. While addressing Jarman’s important contribution to film, this exhibition focuses on his wider practice as a painter, writer, set-designer, gardener and political activist. This is the first time that these diverse strands of his practice have been brought together in over 20 years, since the important exhibition of his work at the Barbican, London, in 1996.

PROTEST! captures Jarman’s engagement with both art and society, as well as his contemporary concerns with political protest and personal freedoms arising from the AIDS crisis. Major bodies of work, from the 1960s to the 1990s, have been brought together; many of which have never been seen in public before.

Derek Jarman studied at the Slade School of Art, London in the early 60s, and was part of a group of young painters, including Patrick Procter and David Hockney, who embodied a changing mood in British art. His early career focused entirely on painting, and from 1960 onwards he produced a variety of self-portraits and figure studies with diverse influences and constantly evolving outcomes. Jarman like many of his contemporaries was caught between the figuration of the London School and the influence of Pop and Conceptual art. Jarman combined these influences to produce work that spoke of his deep interest in both the art of the past and the issues of his time. Often auto-biographical, his work across varied media reflected how his own life experience spoke to wider social and political contexts. Included in this exhibition are early paintings showing Jarman’s rapid stylistic evolution such as Self Portrait (1959), Trick (1964) and Landscape with Marble Mountain (1967).

In 1967 Jarman was included in Tate Young Contemporaries; in the inaugural exhibition at the Lisson Gallery and the 5th Biennale des Jeunes, Paris; a remarkable record of achievement for a painter in his mid-twenties. Alongside painting he began to produce set designs for opera and ballet which fused his personal style of painting with the scale and three-dimensionality needed for the theatre. This later evolved into design for film alongside the Director Ken Russell, which led directly into his first foray in film-making in the early 70s when he began to make Super-8s and write film scripts. Archival material in the exhibition including sketchbooks, photographs, scripts and ephemera will show Jarman’s development as a set-designer for film such as The Devils (Dir. Ken Russell, 1971), opera Don Giovanni (Sadler’s Wells, 1968) and ballet Jazz Calendar (Royal Ballet,1968).

Throughout his career Jarman retained a deep interest in history and the art of the past. In 1976 he produced his first full length feature film Sebastiane, a queer telling of the story of the martyrdom of St Sebastian. Against the backdrop of Thatcherism and a socially conservative Britain, Jarman’s work made queer lives and history visible; a provocation to the dominant hierarchies.

Caravaggio’s life and art were a source of inspiration for their fusion of passion, beauty and violence. Over a period of more than ten years Jarman made paintings using techniques borrowed from the Renaissance master. Making a feature film on Caravaggio’s life became an obsession. This research led to the creation of volumes of sketchbooks, storyboards, and paintings which has been included in this retrospective. Following the release of the film Caravaggio in 1986, he received recognition by the Tate Gallery when he was included as a nominee for the Turner Prize that year.

At the end of 1986 Jarman was diagnosed as HIV-positive. AIDS was then a fatal, non-treatable disease which the tabloid press described as a plague. This diagnosis transformed Jarman’s practice and led to a new kind of activism as he worked to raise awareness of AIDS. He was one of the only public figures to ‘come out’ with the disease, an extraordinary act of courage in the social and political climate of the time. This is expressed in his paintings such as Queer (1992) [Manchester Art Gallery Collection], from his expansive series of ‘Slogan Paintings’. These monumental works, from the early 1990s, incorporating phrases related to government policy, tabloid hysteria and public fear of the AIDS crisis, are included in the exhibition and remain powerful comments on the socio-political climate of the time.

Jarman’s agitprop became integrated into his wider practice. Footage re-shown for the first time at IMMA is the politically-charged performance and installation staged at the Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, in 1989, commissioned by The National Review of Live Art. The footage features two seemingly naked young men in a bed surrounded by barbed wire, negative tabloid front pages relating to the AIDS crisis and tarred and feathered mattresses. A touchstone in Jarman’s high-profile protest work against the demonization of AIDS sufferers.

Jarman’s diagnosis coincided with a move to Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent, which is overshadowed by the Dungeness nuclear power station. Here he created a unique and highly-regarded garden, the site of his film The Garden (1990) and book Derek Jarman’s Garden (1995).

Throughout his life Jarman was a committed diarist and regularly published memoirs that reflected his thoughts on art, life and society, these include Modern Nature (1991) and Dancing Ledge (1984). They offer a clear insight into his working process and the political backdrop to the creation of his work. This practice will be reflected in the exhibition through diaries, sketchbooks and spaces for reflection.

Moving image works from across Jarman’s career are being shown throughout the exhibition, charting the evolution of his filmmaking. Jarman’s achievement in film are being presented in association with the Irish Film Institute (IFI) who will screen a selection of his feature films in their original format during the exhibition’s run.

Jarman remains an essential and influential figure in contemporary art. Against the backdrop of Section 28, enacted on 24 May 1988 that stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”, and the AIDS crisis, Jarman made explicitly political art. In his use of installation (including beds), multiple media and religious iconography he prefigured the work of younger artists including Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst.

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