More Life - Derek Jarman | David Zwirner

Derek Jarman

On view at 525 and 533 West 19th Street in New York from June 24 through August 3, 2021, this exhibition presents the iconic film Blue (1993) and a selection of late paintings by the British interdisciplinary artist Derek Jarman (1942–1994). Jarman’s richly layered and symbolically dense work draws upon philosophy and literature, as well as his own autobiography, to critically interrogate the world around him.

Blue and the paintings on view evidence Jarman’s iconoclastic response to his HIV diagnosis, his confrontation with his own mortality, and the broader sociopolitical climate of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

 

Join us for extended viewing hours and special evening screenings of Blue, free and open to the public:

 

Wednesday, July 21, 6–8 PM
Wednesday, July 28, 6–8 PM
Tuesday, August 3, 6–8 PM

A photo of Derek Jarman at Prospect Cottage in 1991. Photo by Geraint Lewis.

Derek Jarman at Prospect Cottage, 1991. Photo by Geraint Lewis

 

Derek Jarman at Prospect Cottage, 1991. Photo by Geraint Lewis

 

A prominent figure in avant-garde London circles from the 1970s to the 1990s, Jarman trained as a painter at the city’s Slade School of Fine Art from 1963 to 1967, and went on to develop a wide-ranging practice encompassing painting, writing, stage and costume design, filmmaking, and gardening. In 1986, after testing positive for HIV, Jarman became a leading voice of AIDS activism.

A photo of Derek Jarman in May 1992 Photo by Howard Sooley.

Derek Jarman, May 1992. Photo by Howard Sooley

Derek Jarman, May 1992. Photo by Howard Sooley

You say to the boy open your eyes
When he opens his eyes and sees the light
You make him cry out. Saying
O Blue come forth
O Blue arise
O Blue ascend
O Blue come in
.


— Derek Jarman, Blue, opening lines

Premiered at the Venice Biennale in June 1993, Blue was made after an AIDS-related infection rendered Jarman temporarily blind. Afterwards, as a result of lesions discovered on his eyes, the artist suffered a condition whereby vivid flashes of blue light interrupted his vision.

The film rejects images because, according to the artist, they “hinder the imagination and beg a narrative and suffocate with arbitrary charm, the admirable austerity of the void.” Instead, an unmodified, 75-minute screen of Yves Klein’s “International Klein Blue” is accompanied by a soundtrack of music and sounds. The voices of Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry, John Quentin, and Jarman read a haunting combination of Jarman’s own poetry and excerpts from his hospital diarie
s. 

An Installation view of Derek Jarman’s Blue, 1993, taken during the final sound mix at De Lane Lea, Dean Street, London, in late 1992. Photo by Liam Daniel.

Installation view, Derek Jarman, Blue, 1993, taken during the final sound mix at De Lane Lea, Dean Street, London, in late 1992. Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy & © Basilisk Communications

Installation view, Derek Jarman, Blue, 1993, taken during the final sound mix at De Lane Lea, Dean Street, London, in late 1992. Photo by Liam Daniel. Courtesy & © Basilisk Communications

Blue not only recounts Jarman’s corporeal experiences with the virus, but also demands that viewers meditate viscerally on color, the void, and the somatic experience of living with AIDS. The film is Jarman’s last feature, completed months before he died.

An interview with Derek Jarman at the Edinburgh Festival, 1993

 

“He wasn’t chasing the center. He wrapped the center around him.”

Tilda Swinton, 2014

Derek Jarman

Act Up, 1992
Oil on canvas
99 x 70 1/2 inches (251.5 x 179 cm)

Derek Jarman

Aids Isle, 1992
Oil on photocopy on canvas
99 1/8 x 70 5/8 inches (251.8 x 179.4 cm)

Jarman trained as a painter from 1963 to 1967 and continued to paint throughout his life, latterly in a studio at his cottage in Dungeness, England. In his paintings, words and abstract colors, rather than overt imagery, convey the artist’s personal and physical experience with AIDS. Hovering between abstraction and language, he subverts the means through which the media and the government address and represent people living with AIDS and the virus. These works linger in the experience of a body failing, and a body being failed by larger systemic bias, inaction, and homophobia. 

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

 

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

 

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

 

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

 

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

 

Installation view, Derek Jarman, David Zwirner, New York, 2021

 

Derek Jarman

Arse Injected Death Syndrome, 1993
Oil on canvas
84 1/4 x 84 3/4 inches (214 x 215.3 cm)

“I want to release some of the anger which everyone with HIV feels.… The actual physicality of painting will release the violence in me.”

— Derek Jarman, 1993

Derek Jarman (left) on the OutRage! March on Parliament with Peter Tatchell (right) and Jimmy Somerville.

Derek Jarman (left) on the OutRage! March on Parliament with Peter Tatchell (right) and Jimmy Somerville. Photo courtesy Peter Tatchell

 

Derek Jarman (left) on the OutRage! March on Parliament with Peter Tatchell (right) and Jimmy Somerville. Photo courtesy Peter Tatchell

 

“With the formation of the queer rights direct action group OutRage! in 1990, Derek found an organization that he could very strongly identify with,” gay rights activist Peter Tatchell recalls. “He was a regular irregular attendee [laughs], but he participated in some of our best-known protests, such as the march on Parliament in February 1992, the demand of which was the repeal of all anti-gay laws.”

Derek Jarman

Fortnum and Mason / Queen’s Grocer, 1992
Oil and mixed media on canvas
99 1/4 x 70 5/8 inches (252.1 x 179.4 cm)

Drawn from Jarman’s Slogan paintings (1992–1993), the works on view feature scrawled phrases such as “Arse Injected Death Syndrome” and “AIDS Isle” across expressionist canvases. Selected works from this series were included in Jarman’s landmark solo exhibition QUEER at Manchester City Art Galleries in 1992. Commenting on the massive exhibition banners hung from the museum’s facade, Jarman called them “a world first for civic gay pride.”

A photo of banners advertising Derek Jarman's exhibition Queer at Manchester Art Gallery in 1992.

Banners advertising Derek Jarman's exhibition Queer at Manchester Art Gallery, 1992

 

Banners advertising Derek Jarman's exhibition Queer at Manchester Art Gallery, 1992

 

An installation view of Derek Jarman's exhibition Queer at Manchester Art Gallery in 1992.

Installation view, Derek Jarman: Queer, Manchester Art Gallery, 1992

 

Installation view, Derek Jarman: Queer, Manchester Art Gallery, 1992

 

“He began and ended his life as a painter and found a freedom and immediacy in painting that he could not find anywhere else. He painted as if on borrowed time.… A restless curiosity and technical invention shines through, but above all, the sheer pleasure of putting paint to canvas.”

—Joanna Shephard

A photo of Derek Jarman in October 1992. Photo by Howard Sooley.

Derek Jarman, October 1992. Photo by Howard Sooley

Derek Jarman, October 1992. Photo by Howard Sooley

“I’m not afraid of death but I am afraid of dying. Pain can be alleviated by morphine but the pain of social ostracism cannot be taken away.”

— Derek Jarman, 1993

Derek Jarman

Blind August, 1993
Oil on canvas
84 1/4 x 84 3/4 inches (214 x 215.3 cm)

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