Sometimes repetition isn’t just repetition, it is the most emphatic form of insistence and John Stezaker has something very important to insist upon. His show at The Approach is the latest offering in a set of works which span over a quarter of a century. This body of collage works, which seem to have their roots in his “Masks” series, are superbly simple collages of postcards and found images which have an authority and quietness all of their own. One occasionally comes across artists who “own” an area of art (much to the dismay of the rest of us) and Stezaker undoubtedly “owns” collage. It is, however, a position he has secured with the quiet, almost pedantic rigour of an archivist sifting through the great body of documents which compose our visual culture.
(John Stezaker, Untitled (for Angus), film still collage.)
Reproductions of Stezaker’s works rarely do them justice. The surrealist shock, which comes from layers of found images with depth and texture, doesn’t translate into the flattened lithographic prints of magazines and exhibition catalogues (or dare I say online). The collages say something about the way we see the world around us, they pick up on the dependence of our vision upon similarity and difference - the similarity between the sweep of a fringe and that of a mountainside but also the frank, terse and simple difference between those images and their contexts. Or the initial impossibility of distinguishing between the leg of a suited businessman as it morphs into a woman’s gloved hand.
Alongside the familiar postcard type collages are a set of formally much simpler works. They combine elements of collage, cooked and reduced to their logical conclusion. They relate to their figurative counterpoints rather like a diagram relates to a sketch. They are more structuralist, perhaps more direct but without the richness or ambiguity of the "Masks".
(John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa, January 29 - March 7, 2010; The Approach, installation view.)
It is perhaps the rigour and diligence within the collages which give them a sense of intimacy and The Approach gallery has a scale well suited to these modest works. These are works which are simple but not boring, entertaining but not bombastic and one cannot help but admire the simple repose and economy of Stezaker's practice.
(All images courtesy of the Approach, London.)