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John Stezaker

John Stezaker

The works that the British artist John Stezaker has been creating since the mid-1970s make use of film stills and portraits of actors found in secondhand bookshops, pictures taken from vintage books and old postcards. At their root lies the fascination that the found image can wield, thus reversing the usual hierarchy between artist and artwork.

“Images find me rather than the other way round”, as John Stezaker is fond of repeating. Like his Mask series, in which postcards depicting landscapes, grottoes and waterfalls cover, mask-like, the faces of film actors, his collages and image fragments are hallmarked by minimal modes of intervention: cropping, inversion, superposition, juxtaposition...

Because the images used by John Stezaker refer to a recent but nonetheless bygone period, they apply the poetic and revelatory powers that the Surrealists saw in “outmoded” objects. “I’m interested by the obsolescence of images, the point where they become illegible and mysterious, when they touch another world”, John Stezaker explains. His works propose an arrest of, or a delay in, the flow of images that characterises the contemporary world, making images that were obscured behind their uses and functions suddenly visible.

John Stezaker’s works may, in several respects, be part of the continuity of the collage activities that marked 20th-century art, but they stand out in particular by the way they broach the construction of meaning: this latter is not understood in terms of composition, but is rather the object of a certain “suspension”. For John Stezaker, the line created by the meeting between two heterogeneous images becomes a “deeply attractive” space per se, where the eye can become swallowed up, and from where other meanings can come forth. Collage, for John Stezaker, thus simply consists of “lingering on the flotsam revealed in this edge”. His works explore the potential of what is left unsaid, disquieting our viewer’s habits at the same time as underscoring the power of the gaze.