“My work emerged out of childhood vandalism”, John Stezaker says about his beginnings. The British collagist introduces new meanings to already existing images by appropriating ‘readymade’ material, such as postcards, vintage film stills, or old photographs, and conjoining them into new, unique images that bear surreal qualities.
Stezaker was one of the first generation of British conceptual artists exhibiting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His main inspirations were Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke – painters heavily influenced by photography, who, paradoxically, caused him to stop painting. He started making photomontages while at the Slade art school in 1968. The idea came from being exposed to an unlimited flow of images produced by mass media and popular culture. However, Stezaker asserts that he does not have to look for images - they find him. This is how he describes the process of arriving at the final work: “Images in charity shops are like orphans, they’ve lost their context or culture, they’ve gone a little bit out of date. They’ve been neglected and overlooked for years and people have passed them by, then suddenly here I am, the alternative foster home. But unfortunately I then inflict terrible abuse down in the basement where I cut them up.”
Stezaker’s manual interventions, cutting, pasting, reconfigurating or inverting, results in the images acquiring new contexts, at the same time complementing and contradicting the source photographs. His Dark Star series turned publicity pictures into ambiguous cut-out silhouettes, while Mask fused profiles of Hollywood stars with landscape photographs. Rediscovered by the art market in the mid-2000s, Stezaker has regularly exhibited in galleries around the world and he recently had a major retrospective show at Whitechapel Gallery. Marriage, his current exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee presents nine film portraits he made between 2009 and 2011 depicting male and female identities amalgamated together to create a harmonious, but uncanny marriage. Click through our gallery of images above to see them.
Stezaker is featured in Vitamin PH, a global survey of new developments in contemporary photography presenting the work of 121 living photographers who have made a fresh and innovative contribution to international art photography in the last ten years, all nominated by influential critics, curators and artists from around the world. It includes texts by significant art historians, critics and creative writers representing a wide variety of perspectives on the 500 images contained within. Check it out in our online store.