John Stezaker @ Whitechapel Gallery

London-born artist John Stezaker is a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art. He was one of the first British conceptual artists exhibiting in the late 1960’s and 70’s and belonged to the first wave of British conceptual artists to react against what was then the predominance of Pop Art. The exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery is a major show of over 90 works from the 1970’s to the present day.

The artist’s image sources and material include photographic portraits, classic film stills of cinematic stars (from long forgotten movie relics of cinematography, dating back to his childhood in the 1940’s and 1950’s), vintage postcards and book illustrations. In his collages, Stezaker works with his images and uses them as ‘readymades’. Through his elegant juxtapositions, he adopts the content and context of the original images to transport his own witty, agitating and distressing meanings. He clinically halves the figures and puts their fragments together to reform a surreal environment, in which the viewer is invited to face and explore the new identity of the image.

In ‘Marriage’, Stezaker combines male and female faces of 1940’s and 50’s film stars. He couples the two identities into unified characters pointing to a disarticulated harmony; these newly formed images are principally hermaphrodites offering an electrifying comparison of masculine and feminine nature. An emphasis is placed on the dualism of the depicted image engaging a tone of surrealism reflecting successfully how two worlds can come together by binding two separated and opposed forces.

In his ‘Dark Star’ collage series, Stezaker turns publicity portraits into cut-out silhouettes, creating an enigmatic presence in the place of the absent celebrity. He converts the central object (the star) into a voyeuristic shadow figure. The original image is isolated from its subjective function in portraiture and becomes an object of independent, autonomous fascination and what Stezaker described as “the dark aura of fascination”.

The exhibition reveals the rebellious dynamism of images, showing in practice how visual language can establish new significance, new entities, new realities.
|Kostas Prapoglou