ARTICLE

ARTnews, Summer 2011

John Stezaker

Whitechapel

London

John Stezaker uses collage and cropping to clever effect. He takes vintage photographs, cutting them up and recombining them to create uncanny juxtapositions that, at their best, evoke the surrealism of Magritte or Man Ray.

Some images offer sly takes on their subjects' personalities, becoming new and unsettling portraits through Stezaker's skills of manipulation. In Pair I (2007), for example, a man and a woman lean toward each other as if to kiss, yet their faces have been replaced by two opposing walls of a ravine on a postcard. The use of jarring imagery to suggest emotional distance may look familiar, but Stezaker makes it feel fresh.

Other works take a more narrative route. In Tabula Rasa XV (2009), a man in a dapper Navy uniform looks quizzically at two men whose faces and torsos have been excised. Where their identities once were, the viewer now sees only a blank polygon, apparently cut into the print with a knife. This could pass for a good likeness of the gay closet, but Stezaker rarely imposes any such single reading. His technique becomes almost too obvious in Negotiable Space I (1978), in which a white-coated psychiatrist sits at a desk, a portrait of Freud on the wall, while a patient's head has been replaced by a color picture of a moving train. It's not his most subtle image but it still engages.

Witty and entertaining, this exhibition covered nearly 40 years of Stezaker's remaking of found images. Yet, despite its chronological sweep, the scope of his work here felt oddly constricted. The artist seems to work almost entirely with photographs from the middle decades of the last century, a narrow time frame. One wonders what would have happened if he had used more current images or even some of his own.

--Roger Atwood


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