FEATURE DEREK J ARMAN
morning ofthe day we speak he has engaged in a radio ding-dong with his local MP in Dungeness. The afternoon has been dedicated to painting and, after our interview, he means to write back to the Home Counties mother-of-two who said she would like to meet him, suggesting a suitable time and venue. Tomorrow he fully expects to be arrested when he takes part in an illegal demonstration with the radical gay group Outragel, but a week later he will be present for the opening of his new exhibition at the Art Gallery and Museum. Kelvingrove. Titled At Your Own Risk. the show comprises a selection of works which deal directly with Jarman‘s HIV status, as well as a series of new landscapes.
An acclaimed filmmaker, and a tireless, galvanising spokesman on gay issues. Jarman was an artist first. Since graduating from the Slade School of Art in the 1960s he has continued to paint and exhibit, has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize, and won the prestigious Peter Stuyvesant Prize. Sometimes he has been a ‘Sunday painter‘, sometimes a serious one, but it was really the revelation that Jarman was HIV positive and, in 1990, the ﬂurry ofillnesses that kept him in and out of St Mary‘s Hospital, that inspired him to take up the brush again.
J arman, who is always self-effacing,
regards his talent as a tremendous piece of luck. ‘One ofthe great problems with HIV is the lack of motivation in people‘s lives.‘ he says. ‘Even ifI couldn‘t make films, if it got too complicated, I could go back to painting‘..
DEREK JARMAN’s celebrity as a filmmaker and campaigner for gay rights has tended to eclipse his reputation as a painter. On the eve of a new exhibition of his works, he talks to Miranda France about art and the politics of HIV.
erek Jarman is a busy man. On the |
The paintings are more like assemblages, small, square iconographical works which
' often juxtapose religious imagery with the
trappings ofillness — thermometers and test tubes. One piece. called T8 or not TB, that is the question features an intravenous drip bag— ‘I scavenged from the hospital, and they turned a blind eye,‘ he explains.
‘The oddest thing is that, it someone asked me to talk about love on the phone Iwould say that that’s private, but it they ask me about sex it’s easy.’
Condoms, the ultimate HIV motif, are often incorporated into the collage. as are the numerous bits of ﬂotsam and jetsam that Jarman finds on the shore near his home in Dungeness. The works are very pleasing to the eye: at first glance their aestheticism belies the irony behind them.
‘They‘re very angry,‘ says Jarman, ‘I mean they‘re actually quite defiant. I was surprised when I saw them again because I don‘t feel that way any more. The anger went straight into the canvas, it wasn‘t directed at anyone outside, it was a general
' fury at the idea of being trapped like this.
And it wasn‘t so much anger about my situation, but because so many of my friends had died, in fact they still are dying.‘ One of the works, called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a small glass case, stuck onto a gold canvas, in which you can make out strips of paper with the words ‘Matthew fucked
In Memoriam, Derek Jarman, 1990 i Mark‘, ‘Mark fucked Luke‘, and so on — a miniature AIDS lottery. ! People complain ofJarman‘s ubiquity. but he claims that. out of the stacks of mail he gets every day, he has only ever received one unpleasant letter. He would like to hang up his campaigner‘s hat some days. he says. but feels that he cannot ‘opt out‘. particularly since his is something ofa lone voice. ‘I wish that Bruce Chatwin, who was a friend of mine, had spoken out. or Freddie Mercury. but I can understand why people are so reticent. It‘s lucky that I‘m not a popstar. because people are not particularly interested in film directors — thank God — which means that I can gain access to the media, and talk about the whole situation without being completely drummed out. I completely understand why Freddie Mercury didn‘t say anything, it would have been a nightmare for him.
‘The oddest thing is that, ifsomeone asked me to talk about love on the phone I would say that that‘s private, but if they ask me about sex it‘s easy.‘
The day after our conversation. sure
; enough, the Guardian pictures Jarman
being swept away in the back ofa black Maria with a number ofother Outrage activists. They have been campaigning for an end to the discriminatory laws which do not recognise a gay couple as an official unit — so depriving them of various legal rights — and which place the age of consent at 2 1, rather than sixteen. Being arrested is all in a day‘s work for him, but Jarman is not always as self-assured as people might think. ‘Sometimes you get really worried about whether or not you‘re doing the right thing.‘ he says. ‘Do you represent people‘s feelings or don‘t you?‘
Derek J arman: At Your Own Risk, Kelvingrove, Glasgow, until 12 April.
12 The List 14 — 27 February 1992