Tuesday, 1 February 2011

John Stezaker, Whitechapel Gallery until March 18th

The pleasure of looking at John Stezaker's work is the shiver of seeing something banal made strange. Studio shots of long-dead actors and hand tinted postcards of waterfalls and landscapes are hackneyed and banal. But when Stezaker lays one of these tired images on top of another, or just slices or folds into a photograph, a strange alchemy takes place. Jolted, we see both the material reality of the photo - look it's been chopped up! while still being seduced by the tidal pull of its image.

Like all collage - these pictures play games with our visual perception. While much collage, even going back to Picasso, overlays multiple images in an attempt to make weighty what is ultimately so light, ephemeral and playful - the chance encounter of images and their kaleidoscopic associations. Here is a more controlled simplicity - Stezaker uses only two images at most. His collage is minimalist.

Stezaker isn't only referencing those great collagists Braque and Picasso, but Magritte too (especially the shadow cutout figures at the beginning of the exhibtion), but mostly Dali. What other image comes to mind when looking at Mask XXXV from 2007 than Dali's Paranoiac Visage of 1935. Stazaker's collages aren't just made of layers, they also lay themselves at the feet of Surrealism's greatest master.

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