John Stezaker

Salama-Caro Gallery

With his photocollages, John Stezaker engages in an art of extraction, arresting the ceaseless flow of things seen and excerpting from them individual motifs. He starts not from optical sensations but from the individual thing, disclosed in that spectral entirety, either all there or absent, that is the image. He accepts photography as a condition of universal mediation, an ambience whose simulations displace natural experience with structures of codes and captions. What interests him is the power of fascination, even of residual myth, found in images—a power that gives rise to encodings in the first place.

The artist’s will to unmediated oneness with an apodictic “now” that somehow transcends the present links him with symbolism and exponents of the sublime. Stezaker’s program shares attributes with that of Barnett Newman, the more so since the former began to move from photocollage to silkscreens. The deadness of the silkscreen image works for him, just as its imperviousness to handling makes it suited to his essentially editive method. For Stezaker, the value of silkscreen lies in its capacity to bring the excerpted, enlarged, and isolated photo-image to the threshold of sublime contemplation. The act of posing an image in opaque white upon a nightlike ground in itself effects a sublime hypostasis that transports the gaze into a transcendent mode of apprehension. As with the artist’s investigations in the ’70s into the structures of voyeurism, the “posing” itself is foregrounded here and made a thematic subject.

Stezaker remains a rigorous collagist, for whom cutting and framing are the syntax of a dialectical poetics of the image. In this group of works, the artist combines and composes a limited but lapidary group of motifs—logs, planets, eyes, eggs, arrows, vultures, galleons, walls, and, of course, the body. This new liaison with symbolist surrealism (notably Joseph Cornell’s) allows a certain reverie of archetypal iconology. Sometimes the cutting serves to confirm the image in its lonely transcendence, elsewhere it literally cuts across it, denies it easy sway over escaping reverie, and returns it to the flatness of its enframing context.

Brian Hatton