Blog, Exhibitions

Derek Jarman

My Garden’s Boundaries are the Horizon

This small, intense exhibition shows the life and work created during the last few years of Derek Jarman’s life. It is currently at the Garden Museum next to Lambeth Palace and is on until 20th September.

As well as a film maker Derek Jarman was also an artist and keen gardener. During 1989 and 1990 he worked on five notebooks dedicated to his garden, which later formed the basis for his gardening memoir Modern Nature.

I have a particular fascination with Dungeness where Derek Jarman bought his cottage. It is a ten square mile spit of shingle pushing out from the Kent Coast into the English Channel towards the French coast. The most southerly corner of England, a peninsular surrounded by sea and and bathed in light. This and the gleaming silvery power station was the view I saw daily as a school girl from nearby Sandgate.

Derek Jarman purchased Prospect Cottage, a fisherman’s shack, on the shingle at Dungeness in 1987 when he came across the building with a ” For Sale’ sign whilst filming on the beach with Tilda Swinton and his partner Keith Collins. He had been diagnosed with HIV in December of the of the previous year and he resolved ‘ to get as much out of life as possible’ so he quickly put in an offer.

Overlooked menacingly by a nuclear power station Jarman wrote in his diary on 18th August 1987 ‘ The shingles preclude a garden’.

The shingles, low rain fall, wind and salt from the sea did initially seemed to defy the possibility of building a garden. However by the following year he had started making his garden, using the existing vegetation and experimenting with plants. He brought both soil and compost onto the site. It is a garden without boundaries full of sculptures made from beach combed wood and rocks.

By 1990 Jarman was admitted to hospital four times with AIDS related problems, his health was seriously deteriorating. He borrowed a studio and with the help of others he started painting on a much larger scale. Many of the late large scale works reflect Jarmans activism around queer life and homophobic abuse and society’s treatment of those suffering from HIV.

Ahead of his time, he also painted his concerns about the natural world. The exhibition shows prospect cottage and its views. There are photographs taken by Howard Sooley. There are gardening tools on display that Jarman had used as a child, plus his art works.

Exhibition designed by Jeremy Herbert
The Garden, Derek Jarman, 1990, Basilisk Communications
Studio Bankside, Derek Jarman, 1972, LUMA Foundation

Please note this exhibition is at the Garden Museum, London. Visitor numbers inside the exhibition are limited for reasons of social distancing, so all visitors, including Friends of the Garden Museum, must book a ticket online ahead of your visit.

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