Derek Jarman, full name Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman (1942-1994), was a multidisciplinary British artist, best known for his avant-garde, underground art cinema. His versatile and extensive oeuvre of films, writings and paintings combines a critical view on oppressive British politics and his outspoken homosexuality with an original aesthetic and images of popular culture. The artist gained fame for making his HIV diagnosis public, and for engaging in gay rights activism until his premature death from an AIDS-related illness in 1994.
Educated at the University of London and the Slade School of Art, he first worked in the cinema as a set designer. Experimental Super-8 films such as Jubilee (1977) launched his directorial career. In the mid-1980s, Jarman developed his status as a major European auteur with the film Caravaggio (1986). Blue, first shown at the 1993 Venice Biennial, documents the partial blindness he suffered as a consequence of a late-life illness. His paintings, ranging from oil on canvas to mixed media, captured the division between personal narratives and the stories of the times; his desire to paint remained intact even as the artist became very weakened and slowly lost his eyesight.
Towards the end of his life, Jarman acquired a small fisherman’s cottage near Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent. Despite the inhospitable conditions of the land, he created an iconic garden considered a work of art in itself, and recorded its evolution in the last book he wrote titled Derek Jarman's Garden, published posthumously. Jarman found in Dungeness a place of healing and creative inspiration; here he painted, made sculptures from materials collected on the beach and wrote autobiographical diaries. In 2020, Prospect Cottage was saved from a private buyer following the largest ever arts crowdfunding campaign by the Art Fund which received international donations from the public as well as from charities, foundations, trusts and philanthropists. The cottage is set to become an artist residency program for artists, academics, writers, gardeners, filmmakers, and others interested in Jarman and his work.