Purple Art

[November 25 2019]

Derek Jarman’s “Protest!” Exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

Twenty-five years after his death, the filmmaker, painter, gardener, writer, designer and activist Derek Jarman still hovers somewhere between the cult and the mainstream – the chronicler of the social and sexual strife of the long 1980s, and maybe the last great English radical of the long 20th century. Curated by Seán Kissane, this major retrospective at IMMA in Dublin weaves a path of delight and desolation through Jarman’s multi hyphenate talents, one that jigs from his early works as a precocious teenage painting talent in the 1960s; through his stage and screen collaborations with figures including Ken Russell, Sandy Powell and Tilda Swinton; the wry darkness of mixed media works created at Prospect Cottage during his final battle with AIDS; his prodigious cinematic output; his diaries and poetry; and the music videos he made for artists including The Sex Pistols, Suede, The Smiths, The Pet Shop Boys and Orange Juice. Bringing together a range of works in private collections, Kissane worked in close cooperation with the trust of Jarman’s late partner Keith Collins, collaborator James Mackay and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery. Newly unearthed and restored delights include minimalist landscapes laced with Elizabethan alchemical symbolism, and later sgraffito paintings, where Jarman scratched black pigment away to reveal elegantly wrought gold leaf nudes, which revel languidly in the distinct, celebratory queerness that defined his life and work. There’s messier, angrier stuff too – packed with critiques of the homophobia, fearmongering and social conservatism of Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch. But perhaps Jarman’s melancholic, erotic encounters with the past and present come together best in ‘Blue’, his final work made as his vision, but none of his protesting spirit, faded.

– Jethro Turner

Derek Jarman’s “PROTEST!” exhibition is on view until February 23rd at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin.

Photo Jethro Turner

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