Secret Scrawls Discovered Beneath Derek Jarman Painting

words and symbols found throw light on the late artist and activist’s relationships and interests

Private Collection (CM London). Photo: Louis Haugh

A wealth of inscriptions that were hidden beneath a Derek Jarman painting have been uncovered by the independent conservator Joanna Shepard. The words and symbols found beneath the paint of Pleasures of Italy (1972) throw light on the late artist and activist’s relationships and interests that fed into his wider practice. 

Shepard reveals the discoveries in a technical appraisal of Jarman’s paintings due to be published by Thames & Hudson next March. Pleasures of Italy, which shows a series of dismembered torsos, was inspired by Jarman’s role in designing the set for Ken Russell’s 1971 film The Devils.

“Examining the painting for this show, a chance back-lighting revealed dozens of inscriptions beneath the paint, deliberately and almost completely painted out, some featuring magical symbols substituted for individual letters,” writes Shepard. The words and markings reflect the artist’s fascination with alchemy while phrases such as ‘Me and My Shadow’ draw on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s philosophy.

The words ‘Jean-Marc’ may reference Jean-Marc Prouveur, an ex-partner of Jarman’s. Other words scrawled on the canvas include ‘Trick or Treat’, ‘Perfect’ and ‘Pure’. Jarman also gives paradoxical views of his practice, saying, ‘This painting is a failure’ and ‘Masterpiece’.

Shepard describes in depth how Jarman made the work. “Here, he has applied what appears to be acrylic paint, gloss house paint and dilute gold metallic paint, in such quantities and so expressively that they form drips and tidemarks over much of the surface.”

The piece is currently on show in Dublin for the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective on the artist, titled Protest! which runs until 23 February 2020.

Source: The Art Newspaper

Naila Scargill
About Naila Scargill 268 Articles
Naila Scargill is the publisher and editor of horror journal Exquisite Terror. Holding a broad editorial background, she has worked with an eclectic variety of content, ranging from film and the counterculture, to political news and finance.

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