Derek Jarman was born in Middlesex, England the son of Elizabeth Evelyn (née Puttock) and Lancelot Elworthy Jarman. His father was a military officer, born in New Zealand. He boarded at Canford School in Dorset, and from 1960 studied at King's College London. This was followed by four years at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London (UCL), starting in 1963.
He had a studio at Butler's Wharf, London, and was part of the Andrew Logan social scene in the 1970s. Jarman was outspoken about homosexuality, his public fight for gay rights, and his personal struggle with AIDS.
On 22 December 1986, Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive and discussed his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness. In 1994, he died of heart failure with HIV/AIDs in London, aged 52. He was an atheist. Jarman was buried in the graveyard at St. Clement Church in Old Romney.
In the late 60s, Jarman took over a vast old corset factory at Bankside near Blackfriars. Inspired by the space, he began to make Super-8 films featuring his friends, including fellow artists Kevin Whitney, Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan. Reshot and layered, some of these images formed the basis of 1983's In the Shadow of the Sun, which with its soundtrack by Throbbing Gristle remains an ambient masterpiece.
Jarman was drawn into the film industry by Ken Russell, who out of the blue hired him to do the set design on The Devils (1971). His first feature was Sebastiane; released in 1976, it proclaimed the new out-and-proud gay sensibility. In Derek he recalls how, though the film "started as a joke", it took on a playful, sun-drenched life of its own: he says it was "homoerotic in its very structure".
Jarman is also remembered for his famous shingle cottage-garden, created in the latter years of his life at his home Prospect Cottage on Dungeness. The cottage is built in vernacular style in timber, with tar-based weatherproofing, like others nearby. Raised wooden text on the side of the cottage is the first stanza and the last five lines of the last stanza of John Donne's poem, The Sun Rising.
The cottage garden was made by arranging flotsam washed up nearby, interspersed with endemic salt-loving beach plants, both set against the bright shingle. The garden design style is postmodern and highly context-sensitive - a complete rejection of modernist design theory.
Prospect Cottage on Dungeness
Jarman disliked the sterility of modernism; he despised its lack of interest in poetry, allusion and stories; he deplored the techno-cruelty exemplified in Dr. D. G. Hessayon's 'How to be an expert' series of garden books. Jarman's small circles of flint reminded him of standing stones and dolmens. He remarked that 'Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children, spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals.
On one of the black timber walls of the cottage there is a poem engraved into the wall. The poem is from John Donne's The Sun Rising and reads:
The cottage was purchased by an art charity in 2020 after a fundraising campaign. The cottage had been at risk of being sold privately until campaigners started to raise money in January 2020. Their target of £3.5m was reached thanks to more than 7,300 donations. The building, its contents and gardens will be preserved by Art Fund, which will host a residency programme for creatives.
Part of the garden at Prospect Cottage
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
In that the world's contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere
Poem on the side of Prospect Cottage
Please Note The cottage and associated garden are private, please afford the owner, and his neighbours, the same respect and quiet which you would expect; peering through the windows is particularly unwelcome. Visitors to the garden please note: no responsibility can be accepted for personal injury, loss or damage - however caused. No commercial photography (still or moving) without prior - written consent eg Fashion shoots / pop videos / commercials / television / video / cinema / magazines etc. See Photography and Filming on Dungeness.
Prospect Cottage in the 1940s
Find our more about Derek Jarman's garden by reading his book Derek Jarman's Garden. This book, the last he ever wrote, is his own record of how this garden evolved, from its beginnings in 1985 to the day of his death in 1994.