Sometimes the best
way to find out something about someone's life is to ask their
friends to tell you a story. That is essentially what DEREK JARMAN:
A Biography by Tony Peake is --- a story about an artist's life by
someone who knew him well and often collaborated with him on the
works that made him famous. From Jarman's English boyhood to his
randy days as a fine artist and then filmmaker and AIDS activist,
Peake offers up tiny slices of the man's history with a generous
and gracious spirit, filled with love for a complicated human being
who offered the planet his very soul in his work.
Jarman was a rampant homosexual playboy at a time when it wasn't
exactly in vogue. He was also a sensitive and talented gardener
whose cottage landscape became a famous stopping-off point for
gardening enthusiasts (of which there are many in England). He
covered the lives of other famous, complicated men in his work,
with films about Caravaggio and Edward I and St. Sebastian. At the
end of his life, blind and ruined by AIDS, he made a film called
Blue, in which the screen is bathed in blue colors and with
a soundtrack that mirrored the way he saw the world at the time.
Jarman was a renegade whose every move reflected the place he was
in his life --- he was truly a working artist.
Peake's writing isn't exactly the type of sophisticated reportage
you would expect from such a lengthy and detailed biography of a
recent art world star. However, it is just that perspective that
makes DEREK JARMAN: A Biography such a compelling read. Again, it
is as if you were sitting around a coffee table in a homey kitchen
with an old friend telling you stories about someone who isn't
there anymore who added so much to the world when he was; and whose
voice, through his work, would linger after him forever.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 21, 2011