I am not sure why I was drawn to this book. I think it may have popped up when I was looking for David Batchelor’s Colour. Jarman is famous locally for his beach garden in an uncompromising part of the coast, at Dungeness, a few miles east of Hastings.
Jarman, who died from Aids in 1994, writes sparingly on the subject, reserving most of his energies for a highly personal exploration of colour in all its guises.
Widely informed, he writes like the silver dandelion clock whispered into the breeze, blink and you miss a gem. ‘On Seeing Red’ he glides effortlessly from Albers to Wittgenstein to Goethe to Kandinsky to Chevreul to Agrippa, without pausing for breathe. He explores the history, the alchemy, the pigment, the use, the painters, the meaning, the phrasing, from rose madder, Rubia Tinctorum to ‘painting the town red’.
He weaves his and others’ poetry into a work without formal structure, plucking thoughts, wise, and not so wise, anecdotes and musings, to create a hugely nourishing read.
Of yellow in ‘The Perils of Yellow’ he writes ‘Orpiment poisonous arsenic sulphide. Brilliant lemon yellow used in manuscripts and mentioned by Pliny. It came from Smyrna and was used in Egyptian, Persian and later Byzantine manuscripts. Cennini says it is really poisonous.’; of Venetian courtesans, the madness of Vincent, Whistler’s yellow gallery, the executioner of Spain, sailing the plague flag into the bladder-wracked waters of Sargasso, to road markings, Oscar Wilde and back to Prospect Cottage.
In ‘Green Fingers’ we learn that ‘paradise’ is the Persian for ‘garden’. In ‘How Now Brown Cow’ we learn that Dr Collis-Brown (my mother swore by it) was the last non prescription medication to contain opium, declining in popularity once the opium was removed in the sixties.
With works like Chroma and the writings of Hustvedt, Oxlade and Hickey, I find it necessary to follow with my ipad, diving off to check a writer, poet, mythological character, art work, in fact, anything and everything. During Chroma I disappeared for several days on the trail of Meister Eckhart, who was to influence Tolle, so much so, that he changed his name.
An extraordinary read, with enough pointers to provide a lifetime of research.