Richard Hamilton

Derek Jarman


Not on display

Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Digital print on paper
Image: 397 × 392 mm
Purchased 1997


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 Fun (Tate Gallery T06768), which 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.

The print is number seventeen in an edition of forty examples. Hamilton donated the edition to be sold for the benefit of The Elton John Aids Foundation.

Further reading:
Roger Wollen (ed.), Derek Jarman: A Portrait, London 1996

Terry Riggs
November 1997

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Display caption

Derek Jarman was a leading British film-maker, artist, writer and vigorous campaigner for gay rights. In 1984 he was diagnosed HIV positive and he died from AIDS in 1994. The honesty with which he chronicled his illness earned him a considerable public reputation.

Using photographs, Richard Hamilton made this portrait after Jarman’s death. He shows him in front of one of his own paintings – apparently Ataxia – AIDS is Fun. The ironic title indicates Jarman’s defiant stance. Ataxia refers to the artist’s loss of physical control of his limbs when his illness attacked his central nervous system.

Gallery label, September 2004

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