Sunday, July 6, 2014


Derek Jarman (1942-1994)
Digital print by Richard Hamilton (1922-2011)
Completed 1996-97

Derek Jarman
Ataxia - Aids is Fun
Oil on canvas, 1993
"Shortly before the death of the filmmaker and painter Derek Jarman in 1994, the Director of the Tate Gallery gave a lunch in his honour in the Tate Board Room. Hamilton, who was among the guests, took a number of colour Polaroid photographs of Jarman during the lunch and selected one of them as the basis for the eventual image in a painted portrait. That painting by Hamilton shows Jarman's bespectacled head, wearing a cap, in front of his 1993 oil painting Ataxia - Aids is Funwhich was hanging in the Board Room during the lunch. The title focuses attention on the suffering of those with Aids (and, in this case, also with Ataxia, an affliction of the central nervous system), of whom Jarman was one. Hamilton discussed the occasion in a letter to the Tate Gallery (September 1997) 

"I took my Polaroid camera with me because Jarman had agreed to photograph me for a collection of Polaroid Portraits which began in 1968 ... his eyes were poor so I photographed him to set the focus before handing him the camera. The spontaneous photograph I made of Derek conveyed his extraordinary courage while it also revealed his pitiful condition. Later, I scanned it into my computer, then retouched and modified the head a little, but my concern was to develop a background for the portrait and I began by introducing a hazy, misty blue. On further consideration it seemed that the background should be sharp - it could reflect the focus of his mind rather than the blur on his retina."

Both pieces seen here (the Hamilton portrait and the Jarman painting) are now in the collection of the Tate Gallery and that institution generated the quoted commentary, along with Richard Hamilton's generous account of the making of a posthumous portrait.