I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
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An exhibition devoted to the work of a groundbreaking artist and filmmaker will bloom again at Manchester Art Gallery after its scheduled opening was stopped by COVID-19.
Protest! a major retrospective of the work of Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was due to start on 2nd April 2020 but is now in the diary for 1 December 2021–10 April 2022.
Last year, the gallery did their best to make up for the disappointment with an online programme of films and conversations on Jarman's work. See more here.
Jarman was famous for his eclectic approach. For the Pet Shop Boys, he directed the videos for It's a Sin and Rent and also staged and made films for their first tour, in 1989.
It's a Sin was a UK number one in 1987. The video featured Ron Moody, who played Dickensian villain, Fagin in the film Oliver (1968). But Jarman cast him on the other side of the law, as a monastic judge.
The Rent video (1987) mixed black and white with colour sections and featured Neil Tennant, in the role of a chauffeur.
In 1991, the Pet Shop Boys played a special show at London nightclub Heaven, after the charity premiere of Jarman's film Edward II. Funds raised went towards AIDS research by Dr Tony Pinching - who regularly treated Jarman throughout his illness.
In 1986, The Smiths, having previously refused to make videos, employed Derek Jarman to make a short film of three of their songs - Panic, The Queen is Dead and There is a Light that Never Goes Out.
As a filmmaker, Jarman brought martyrdom of St Sebastian to the screen in 1976, having already worked as a set designer for films such as The Devils (1971) directed by Ken Russell.
In 1986 he illuminated the life of Caravaggio (1571–1610). The film included Sean Bean as a street fighter and Tilda Swinton as his girlfriend Lena, who catches the eye of the Italian painter. It also used deliberate anachronisms such as motorbikes and electric lights to illustrate the universal and timeless resonance of Caravaggio's work.
Jarman's sketchbooks, storyboards, and paintings on the theme of Caravaggio are included in Protest!.
The nearby HOME arts centre have rescheduled their programme of films to parallel Manchester Art Gallery's exhibition.
Jarman's work in the 1980s was made in the context of explicit homophobia, reflected in Section 28 introduced by the Conservative government in 1988. The law stated that a local authority "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."
The environment for gay people in the 1980s was made even worse by the AIDS crisis. Jarman was one of the only public figures to talk about living with the disease, after he was diagnosed as HIV-positive, in 1986.
Despite saying "I didn't have the patience to be a painter", Jarman's anger towards tabloid newspapers and the government, inspired him to pick up a brush as well as a Super-8 film camera.
Margaret Thatcher's Lunch features a bloody knife and fork on a black 'place mat', with GBH and the affluent society scratched, like graffiti, on to the canvas. One of his more polite, though irony-laced 'Slogan Paintings' declares "Aids is fun."
Margaret Thatcher's Lunch, 1987, oil and mixed media on canvas, 45,7 x 41,2 cm, Courtesy of Keith Collins Will Trust and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, London
The paintings were completed when Jarman was in his last illness-ridden years. His farewell film was Blue (1993) - which alludes to the way his failing vision was often interrupted by blue light. The Tate Gallery website refers to it as "a direct counterpart to the late painting Ataxia - Aids is Fun 1993 in its evocation of Jarman's final illness, albeit from a very different standpoint."
Derek Jarman, Blue, 1993, Film still, Digital Pro res with sound 5.1, Dimensions variable. Photo Liam Daniel courtesy & (c) Basilisk Communications
Manchester Art Gallery itself commissioned a solo exhibition by Jarman, at this time. Queer was shown at the gallery in 1993.
Manchester Art Gallery (1993) Queer banner. Copyright Howard Sooley
A more sunlit side of Jarman's personal and artistic life made the news last year. The garden he created and filmed, in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station, was up for sale after his long-time companion Keith Collins died in 2018. The Art Fund successfully raised £3.5 million to #SaveProspectCottage. Their website states that the project was 111% funded.
Jarman expressed his wish to nurture a space that was both private and open to visitors, when he said "My garden's boundaries are the horizon." Last year the Garden Museum, London staged an exhibition inspired by Jarman's vision.
Protest! Is co-curated by Fiona Corridan and writer Jon Savage, who once said: "There are so many different Derek Jarmans that it feels strange to focus on just one aspect of the man." (Derek Jarman's Sketchbooks, ed. by Stephen Farthing and Ed Webb-Ingall: Thames & Hudson, 2013).
Protest!, a partnership with IMMA, Dublin, will encompass Jarman's practice as a painter, writer, filmmaker, set-designer, gardener and political activist. But it will no doubt leave us wanting to discover and be re-acquainted with more of his abundantly creative life.
From the Watford Advertiser 1960, Jarman with self portrait, painted 1959. Courtesy of Keith Collins Will Trust and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, London