In pictures of Prospect Cottage, you may have noticed something rather distinctive: an extract from John Donne's poem The Sun Rising on the wall, facing the elements.
Jarman's friend Peter Fillingham was the artist to create this – and he's kindly reproduced the poem, in Jarman's handwriting, for a limited-edition tote bag and print created exclusively for the #SaveProspectCottage campaign.
Here Peter tells us about creating the poem on the side of the cottage, and what it meant to him and Derek.
The Sun Rising on Prospect Cottage
Derek would often phone me from hospital with exciting plans for Prospect Cottage, and new ideas he was impatient to get on with. On this occasion, he phoned from his hospital bed, saying that he wanted to write a poem on the side of Prospect Cottage. Could I work out a way of doing this?
Within the typical flow of optimism, I said that we would find a way, and so he posted to me handwritten transcripts of John Donne’s poem The Sun Rising immediately. As artists, we would often work from thumbnail sketches and deal with technicalities as we went along. There was an additional notion of a sign saying ‘Prospect Cottage. Have a nice day’, which we fortunately agreed not to add.
These phone calls from the hospital were often a way for Derek to keep life at Prospect Cottage fluid, alive and looking to the future. For the few of us who were constantly there at weekends, it was an extended family home. Meals were prepared, chores were shared amongst us all, many hours were spent collecting stones or large chunks of wood, or stoking the fires which needed constant attention. The house was always filled with the smell of coffee and freshly home-cooked food. The interior of Prospect Cottage and its exterior were always connected through activity.
In the then-analogue world, I made slides of his handwritten text. These were projected onto large pieces of MDF, and the letters then hand-cut with a jigsaw in the garage at my parent’s house in Deal in Kent. My mum endlessly vacuumed up the dust in typical cottage industry style, perhaps the most meaningful way to make something.
It was typical of Derek to take a great work, personal to him, but loved by so many others, and give it his own stamp. His garden, like anyone’s garden, was very personal, but he always enjoyed sharing his fantasy with others. The poem, placed on the outside of the cottage, was part of this endeavour.
Over time the MDF swelled and disfigured in the extreme wet, windy and hot conditions of Dungeness. The letters became unrecognisable, but increasingly remarkable to look at. The second set of letters were also hand-cut, but this time made from marine ply for longevity. They will now need replacing, testament to the increasingly harsh conditions of the environment.
Installing the poem was innovative but fun, like any other activity at Prospect Cottage. The last time I saw Derek using his Braun Nizo camera was filming us putting it up. Howard Sooley took photos of us installing the poem. These images feature in his book Derek Jarman’s Garden.
Artist Peter Fillingham was a friend of Derek Jarman, and worked for many years as collaborator on several of his films and exhibitions.
If you know someone who's been waiting to donate, let them know about our new reward: Peter Fillingham's limited-edition tote bag, featuring John Donne's poem The Sun Rising in Derek Jarman's handwriting. The reward also includes an exclusive print of the poem.