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Costume Design – A Cubist Clown Derek Jarman


Derek Jarman Northwood, Middlesex, 1942 – London, 1994

Date 1968
Object type collage
Medium, technique paper collage

50.5 x 40.5 cm

Inventory number MO.91.22
Collection Department of Art after 1800
On view This artwork is not on display

Jarman was one of the most important English avantgarde film directors who severed all ties with traditional film making, a radical innovator (Caravaggio, Jubilee, Wittgenstein, Blue). He studied art history, history and painting. In 1967 he co-founded the Lisson Gallery in London, showing his abstract landscapes at the opening exhibition together with works by Keith Milow. In his later life, too, there was always a room in his home for painting. After the academy, he turned towards stage and costume design. In 1968, Frederick Ashton accepted his designs for the Royal Ballet’s Jazz Calendar production in which Rudolf Nureyev had the leading role. In the same year, he made designs for several other ballet, opera and theatre productions. He was gladly involved in stage works in which music and mime was based on the surrealistic sight of collage-like scenes. After the success of Jazz Calendar, John Gielgud asked him to make the sets and costumes for Don Giovanni. “I decided to go back to a classical source. For example the simple designs of Derain and Chirico, a period when theatre design was truly contemporary.”
Reviews expressed mixed feelings about the productions which gave ample scope for experimenting with genres and media. Some still hailed Jarman as a brilliant discovery, others were at a loss seeing the abstract geometrical forms on stage. The late-’60s stage designs – shown to the public as self-contained graphic works in several exhibitions – can be interpreted in retrospect as the first steps towards the film. His highly artistic costumes and sets made Ken Russel call him into film making and ask him to design the sights of his films. Jarman’s first feature film debuted in 1975.

Ferenc Tóth

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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