John Stezaker Exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery

On entering this show, you feel the prickly gaze of hundreds of little eyes. The wall opposite draws you closer to inspect small portraits of forgotten movie stars from a bygone age of glamour. However, there is no place for nostalgia here as Stezaker’s interventions leaves the viewer reeling from the jolt of the new. The photographs have been sliced horizontally at the point of the eyes and then the two halves layered over an identical copy. This reveals kaleidoscopic faces inducing the sensation
of intoxication. One image is particularly unsettling, a plump bald head with repeated sets of bulging eyes unveils a face that is abject and spider-like.

Stezaker uses found images of movie stills, postcards and illustrations which he alters and reassembles to form a new meaning. Images are cut and collaged in very subtle but deliberate gestures, each piece carefully composed. Like a surgeon, he exercises his scalpel with precision and perfection. Stezaker’s rejection of digital techniques for original materials is evident.

This is Stezaker’s first major exhibition, which catalogues his work from the 1970s to the present day. This substantial collection displays an artist who has remained loyal to his distinctive style, and the vast and differing results of his experimentation is fulfilling to consume as Stezaker reveals the endless possibilities in nuances of alternation. Other works include tiny images cut neatly in quarters, movie stills torn and put back together to reveal something more sinister. He continues to abuse iconic starlets by disecting thier images and marrying them with others, producing a cast of freakish characters. A movie still of a couple poised to kiss is strategicaly overlayed with an image of a gorge that sees their faces turned to stone and a river running between them. Our gaze is drawn into the distance between them, as though we are looking at a memory.

These found images are seemingly stooped in meaning and historical context, yet remain disembodied  of any preconceived identities as swiftly and easily as the slice of Stezaker’s scalpel. This twist of contexts fascinates and troubles us: We question the weight of meaning and are fearful of the prospect of nothing.

By Amy Lockwood

The John Stezaker Exhibition takes place from 29th January-18th March 2011at the Whitechapel Gallery

Fashion ScoutComment