Our last Kick-About prompt was a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, an artist whose work is characterised by emptied vistas and other-worldly spaces. Inspired by Howard Sooley’s short film, this week’s showcase of new work is inspired by another improbable landscape – the beach at Dungeness and Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage and garden.
“I loved Howard Sooley’s film. It is beautifully peaceful. My image, a single one this time, is simply a rendition of Prospect Cottage, with the garden made even more minimalist, save for a few small creatures dotted about. This little exercise was a useful one for me, in that I was consciously dampening down my rather over-excitable palette, and also practising the careful placement of a few elements in a pared back landscape.”
“I met Derek Jarman in about 1991 when we were both involved in a direct action group called Outrage that was campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people. He was every bit as wonderful and brilliant as you’d imagine. He was just great to be around and has remained one of my great heroes and inspirations ever since.
I came across this film by Howard Sooley a couple of years ago and I thought it would make a interesting prompt for the Kick-About, as it includes such a wide variety of potential jumping off points, as well as just being beautiful to watch. The prompt has given me a good excuse to re-read Modern Nature over the past few days, my favourite of Derek Jarman’s books. The writing includes passages about so many things; his film work, painting, sex life, reminiscences about his childhood, politics, friends, but the garden he was creating at Prospect Cottage twines around everything and binds it together. The book always keeps coming back to the garden. It’s a telling indication of his character that, after being diagnosed with, what was then, a terminal illness, he responded by moving to a wild scrap of land next to a nuclear power station and started to create a garden.
I’ve used a passage from another of his books, At Your Own Risk, to make this little film for the Kick-About. I find the words very moving and full of humanity and also capture something of his essence. His was a life well-lived and he left so much to us after he’d gone.”
“For this prompt I have some photos of things I collected while travelling and objects given by friends and family. I gather them in corners or containers around the house. They are snapshots of memories surrounding us and making our home.”
“Unfortunately, because of living out in the urban sprawl in distant lands far from home, wonderfully empty and bleak places like Dungeness are something of a distant memory. These days, the mention of Dungeness conjures up images of post-apocalyptic landscapes dotted with historical relics, and the windswept houses of but a few lone survivors, but my younger self would have perhaps rolled his eyes at idea of yet another school trip or BTEC National Diploma outing to good old Dungeness to wander around on a quiet beach for two hours without any ice-cream or fish and chips, and no way to escape until herded back onto the chartered coach.
Nowadays, I feel like it would probably be very entertaining to be sat on a beach, look out to the horizon, and not really see anything or anyone, and just watch the time pass. So here is a little graphical ode to doing nothing, from the view of my own cottage on a shingle beach somewhere.”
“When viewing Howard Sooley’s Prospect Cottage, I was instantly drawn to the opening images of the lighthouse and the water, the way those clips moved – like pixilation animation. I wanted to create a moving story using older methods revolving around the landscape of Dungeness and all its quirky unique characteristics, I also just really wanted to make something with my hands. I have fashioned a shadow puppet theatre out of old cardboard, a large picture-less frame and some grease proof paper so that I can bring to life cuttings of the characters and all the little things that make Dungeness so intriguing. While I don’t have the film to show just yet, I do have the storyboard.”
“When I saw these images of Derek Jarman’s garden, I was struck by two quite separate, powerful memories.
The first was of some photographic images by Jan Groszer that I saw in an exhibition a few years back. Jan had captured images of the “industrial heritage” of the Kent coast (i.e. the large chunks of metal and machinery left behind when industry moved on.). Those images conveyed a sense of solitary resilience, a determination to “be” whether men had need of them or not, a life which continued with or without human intervention. That same “resilience” is evident in the planting and “furniture” of the garden at Prospect Cottage.
The second memory was of my childhood. Every year, there was an Arts Festival in the town, and my mother insisted all of us kids (there were 5 of us) participated in everything: – we drew pictures, wrote stories, recited verse, did bible-readings, sang songs, and played piano – with varying degrees of skill and success. All part of the cultural upbringing of middle-class children in the Home Counties during the 1950’s. However, one category I loved was the “Miniature Gardens” competition. I still don’t really understand how it fitted in with the rest, but it was a favourite. I would use a little wooden seed tray, line it with newspaper, then fill it with dirt from the garden, or sand. Then a small mirror to create a pond; moss (for grass); a few of mother’s rather scrawny cacti, or some miniature plants from the garden (sedums, saxifrages, thyme, I think, though I had no idea what they were then) and – Voila! A miniature garden. Of course, if I could get my hands on an Airfix model hut or shed from one of the boys’ model railways (with or without their knowledge), my miniature garden would reach even greater levels of sophistication. The odd drop of water to try and keep everything alive – or at least looking that way – and then, a few days later, after ‘Adjudication’, it would all be dismantled, and anything that could be salvaged was returned to its pot or flowerbed (or model railway).
These are the memories that come flooding back when I look at Prospect Cottage and its garden. There is a randomness in the arrangements, the shingle and plant varieties are so in proportion to each other, they could be scaled up or down easily. And the house itself – well, it really does look quite a lot like an Airfix model.
So here is my miniature ‘Dungeness Garden’. It does not have a model hut, but it does have a bit of “industrial heritage” . It will not be dismantled in a few days, but it may not be completely sustainable in its present form. Think of it as a work in progress – as all gardens are.”
“Thinking of Derek Jarman’s film, ‘The Garden’ and the way he experimented with his medium… so, a small reference to this in the use of the lens from from my old Pentax, using it to tint a shot of my allotment as well as being inspired by his use of black and notebooks… all in the mix.” Notebook with Angelica and Lavender seeds.
“I rather wish I’d been passing by at Prospect Cottage in ’91, when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had enthroned Jarman and were acting out his Canonization, as a single sea shell collected would have found itself now enshrined. With some guilt I confess having a few cherished shells from around the world, and yes it feels wrong. Thankfully, times have changed, as countries forbid removal of all that is natural, so here’s a tribute to days gone by.” Oil on prepared paper 25cm x 25cm.
“Memories were sparked by seeing the icon in that interior view of Derek Jarman’s cottage. Derek came to give us a crit on our stage designs for Woyzeck (the play) back in 1981, at the time Caravaggio was formulating, and he was living a wonderful life in Berlin. Aids was about to change lives. He spotted my design for Boris Godunov that was much more interesting to him as I was using the icons in a filmic way and his love of Opera and Russian icons was pertinent. What an inspiring man and how lucky I was to have met him. I moved to Bristol the year he died in 1994. I am still meaning to visit his garden! So taking plants from my garden almost as actors on a stage seems relevant in some way…I had no perception before that that was in my head at the time?
Inspired by Woyzeck, where this ordinary foot soldier is treated as canon fodder and disposable. He is fed a diet of peas to see how he responded. Peas were the first food to be genetically modified. The three graces has a long history to me of the treatment of woman from cradle to grave and preservation of beauty through products. Natural ageing is like a dance and beautiful at every stage. A garden is forever in this cycle of seasons and state of change. When the first Lock-down happened in 2020, I started exploring the idea of these plant portraits painted like an icon with egg and earth.“
“In my own garden, a complete contrast to Prospect Cottage, two enormous sycamore trees rule and I look at it from the top of a hill. A woodland garden in Spring and Winter. A desert often in Summer and Autumn. Everything depends on the growing roots of the trees beneath my feet let alone the raging winds from the West mainly. I talk to my garden. The paths and rocks from the walls tell me when and where the roots are moving underneath them. As time progresses they will start to lift everything up and displace it. These snippets are the beginnings of that process in my mind.”
“Inspired by Howard Sooley’s meditative film on Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, my short stills-based film began with a simple enough observation: living by the sea as we do, we have the obligatory wooden bowl piled high with pebbles collected from the beach. Most of the pebbles date from when we first moved to the coast and each of them, at one time or another, must have been considered special enough to pick up and take home. Looking at them now, it is difficult to recall their unique characteristics or defining features; they appear largely similar, give or take. As a child, I once decided to varnish some pebbles I’d taken from some other beach, in this way keeping them as colourful and bright as when I first plucked them from the shoreline. Anyway, something about the inevitability of pebbles losing their lustre – or rather, keeping secrets of their vibrancy – felt meaningful in storytelling terms and I set myself the challenge of committing an idea to film.”
“Such a lovely prompt! I searched out an old canvas I had tucked in a cupboard for many years and started stitching straight away. I know the style of embroidery is very kitch and chocolate box – but wouldn’t you love a dream cottage like that? I also grabbed my watercolours and enjoyed splodging an imaginary summer’s garden – as I gaze out of the window at the hail stones falling…
My memories take me back to when I was about 7 or 8. I suffered badly from what I now know to be dust or mould allergies. The doctor told my parents to move somewhere with “good country air”. So we did. We moved to a small town in Buckinghamshire and into a newly built bungalow situated on top of a hill, surrounded by fields and woods. It was wonderful and my nasal problems disappeared like magic. There was a lot to do, as the house was literally an undecorated structure, and the garden just part of the field fenced off. My sister and I had to help gather as many stones and flints as possible so my dad could put down concrete paths, and gradually the garden began to take shape. However, my father had grand plans for a wall to divide the front and back. Money being quite tight we couldn’t afford the fancy decorative bricks he wanted – so he made them! He found an advert for this metal brick shaped gadget, which you filled with special cement, and when you tipped it out – hey presto, a raised pattern brick emerged! It was a lovely hot summer and I well remember rows of homemade bricks drying out. The wall my father built with them was a real triumph and people would often stop and ask how he did it!
I went to see the old bungalow recently and was sad to see it is in a bad and sorry state. The grass sways in the breeze and our once beautiful garden looks sadly neglected and unloved to say the least. However, still standing proudly amongst the weeds is my father’s wall. Happy days!”
“In my mind the Prospect Cottage prompt intersected with the Otherworld of Brendan’s earthweal prompt and then merged with my shells, collected over years of visits to the ocean. The shore is where I lose myself and meet “Not Here” and Prospect Cottage felt like it was a portal into that suspension of the normal framing of time and space. “Like landing on the moon,” as the narrator said. Most of my shells are still in storage, but I’ve carried some weathered whelks along with each move I’ve made, both to look at and draw. The spirals sing, and bring the sea to me. I drew three of them from different angles on the same page–first pencil, then colored pencil, then with a brush in gouache. I decided to add grounds. It’s not always easy to tell when you’ve gone too far, but I think I definitely did so with the colored pencils. I may take an eraser to the ground to fade it so the shells don’t get so lost. I was trying to capture the garden of Prospect Cottage. The pencil drawing was impossible to photograph well, but I like the weathered effect. I wrote words around and connecting the shells, which you can see better in the close up. These are quotes from the video, interspersed with my own observations. This one has exactly the feeling I wanted, of secret messages, indecipherable voices on the wind.The painted shells – it felt so good to get my gouache out of storage and paint with it again! – captures the colors I was feeling from both prompts–a sense both of otherness and belonging, of being just exactly in the right place without time.”
I can almost hear them
on repeat through my bones
gifts collected in the overlap of
the fluid movement that follows
what hasn’t happened yet
sheer sound waves etched in side winds
I can see them sometimes—doubled
currents vibrating against a blurred sky
like the shadow of a raptor glimpsed
between the singing of reflected light
“I’m afraid I didn’t riff off the beautiful, yet vulnerable Jarman garden – I’m sure others will springboard off that nuclear backdrop. I just ran with ‘garden’.
We have just moved to Brisbane after 10 years in the Sydney suburb of Earlwood. I wasn’t going to raid the garden for cuttings before I left, but at the last minute I ended up with about fifty tube stock sized treasures that I will try to keep alive while we wait the seven months to get access to our permanent home in Brisbane. So this vegetation arc is my garden: I took a series of close-up, blurry detail photos of these cuttings to start with. I couldn’t help but think about what I had left behind as a garden in Sydney, and why I had planted what and where, and what I had learnt. I wrote a sentence or two for four photos and layered the text onto each photo. I drifted off thinking about how impermanent the old garden was (the new Earlwood owners have a dog that I am sure will change the landscape very quickly). I partially erased the text over the images and blurred it to reflect evolution and the loss of meaning to our actions. I also put a layer of mezzotint texture on top to push back the reality of the image further. Later, I thought the text could be fractured and moved about, but only a single word in each image. I used the common name of the plant featured in each image and chopped it up in Illustrator, moving around the pieces and changing the resulting shapes. Then I added these words back into the layered Photoshop composition. But I thought if what I had done in the garden was of such a transient nature, then why include the photos in the Kick-About? I concentrated on combining the morphed letter forms of the four words in a single Illustrator composition. That’s where I ended up – with a single image.”
‘I’ve only visited Dungeness a couple of times, one being a college day trip to draw and paint back in my foundation year. I remember that day, and the other worldly feel of the place so well. In the spirit of that trip 29 years ago I’ve gone proper rough and observational here, wish I could have found my drawings from back then, I looked everywhere. I’m definitely taking myself back there this summer to do some plein air sketching…”
Courtesy of Gary Thorne, we have, as our next prompt, an evocative extract about the moon from Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84… Happy landings!