John Stezaker appropriates images found in books, magazines and postcards, using them as readymades which he subjects to deceptively simple alterations. Splicing, cutting and pasting the printed ephemera he collects, Stezaker explores the collective memory of twentieth century popular culture and the subtle tensions and passions of interpersonal relations. From still surfaces he opens up psychological chasms.
Producing his work alongside a long career teaching critical studies at the Royal College of Art in London, it is in the last fifteen years that Stezaker’s incisive and engaging conceptualism has been recognised as a significant contribution to British art. In the late 1970s he worked with black and white cinematic images of domestic interiors, the bodies of actors merging into their surroundings. Alongside collages, in the 1980s he produced silkscreen canvases with repeated and overlaid motifs, echoing both Pop art and the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge.
Male and female couples are a recurring subject for Stezaker. In his Marriage series the headshots of early-era Hollywood actors are sliced and an overlayed, producing new hybrid creatures. The juxtapositions are startling and absurdly humorous, reminding us of performed roles we inhabit as we move through different facets of our lives. Stezaker’s Mask series takes vintage postcards of landscapes and lays them over the faces of found single figures of couples. In collages such as Drinker (2012) or Untitled (2016) there is a play with the phenomenon of pareidolia – where humans perceive recognisable features in inanimate objects, such as reading the silhouette of a face in a passing cloud or the opening of a cave. Stezaker’s interventions into an archive of existing imagery opens up feelings of both romance and horror. His body of work is a sustained and poignant response to the artifice that has always gone hand-in-hand with notions of civility and modern progress.