Influential gay artist Derek Jarman’s legacy is being threatened and Art Fund needs your help to protect it. They’re aiming to raise £3.5million to purchase Prospect Cottage – his home from 1986 up until his death in 1994 – before it is privately sold, its contents dispersed and a beloved memento of one of Britain’s greatest gays is lost forever.
A multifaceted artist, Jarman’s work spanned fine art, stage design, writing and even gardening. But it was his filmmaking which best showcased Jarman’s fearless fight for gay rights in the latter half of the 20th century. In a period marked by negative public perception, homophobia and conservative values as the norm, films like Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1978) and Blue (1993) offered an alternative to Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28. Homoeroticism was shown in abundance, trans icons, like Jayne County, were given platforms and in the midst of the global crisis, AIDS education was confronted head-on.
1986 was a pivotal year for Jarman. It was the year he first joined forces with Tilda Swinton in Caravaggio (her big screen debut), the year Prospect Cottage, now under threat, was purchased and the year that Jarman was diagnosed HIV-positive.
Speaking today at ArtFund’s conference held at Slade School of Art, where Jarman studied for four years from 1963, Swinton remembers the moment Jarman set eyes on the Dungeness property:
“We were turning to drive back to London. We saw, at the same moment, a small black-painted wooden house with yolk-yellow window frames on the left-hand side of the road facing the sea,” Swinton recalls.
The sighting would signal the start of a new chapter in Jarman’s life.
“Derek decided he would buy it and within a couple of months, he was taking down chintz curtains and prising open the lid of the first of a gazillion gallons of pitch-black paint with which to anoint his new kingdom.”
The artist lived there until his 1994 death from an AIDS-related illness. Afterwards, his companion Keith Collins took up the maintenance of the property but now that he too has sadly passed, Prospect Cottage risks being sold to private owners.
Swinton is joined in her mission to turn the cottage into a public space by artists including Jeremy Deller, Wolfgang Tillmans, Michael Craig-Martin and Tacita Dean — because 34-years after he first set eyes on it, Jarman’s “kingdom” has become a testament to his pioneering creativity. Nestled inside are artefacts which include a slate from his 1979 film The Tempest, his Modern Nature journal, driftwood sculptures and work from Jarman’s fellow artist friends Richard Hamilton, John Maybury and Maggi Hambling. Not to mention the widely-celebrated garden which surrounds the home.
A year before his death, journalist Simon Garfield profiled Jarman for The Independent. In it, the writer detailed a handwritten note he had spotted in Jarman’s house. Showcasing the artist’s wry wit, it read:
“Dear God, if you insist on reincarnation, please promise me that I will be queer – tho’ I heard you don’t approve, I’ll go down on my knees…”
Let’s help keep the gay flame alive in Dungeness. It’s far too saucy, far too legendary to let go of.
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