John Stezaker - Mask XLVIJohn Stezaker

Open Eye Gallery, Wood Street
2nd November 2007 – 19th January 2008

Reviewed by Claudia Tanner

Do you ever find yourself in an art gallery thinking, ‘but I could do that’? That’s exactly what I found myself saying at the Open Art Gallery, which is presenting what it calls “the most substantial UK exhibition of John Stezaker's work in many years.”

Stezaker has used manual cut-and-paste techniques to form surreal collages of forgotten film archives and old magazines. In his Mass series, he merges landscape images with portraits, apparently ‘to suggest complex and contradictory psychological and emotional states.’ But I thought, aren’t they just postcards of rivers and mountains stuck on to faces?

In Marriage, he combines male and female faces of 1940s and 50s film stars, which, as the wall display explains, produces ‘discordant effects of fusion, symmetry and hybridity.’ I’m sure some will find them witty and uncanny. In Portraits, he places cat’s heads on children’s bodies. That was when I started to feel slightly irritated that I’d driven from the Wirral and paid tunnel fare to see this.

The exhibition also includes three large black and white digitally produced prints that play with mirrored images of trees. I was glad to see something different from the faces, which the artist clearly has a fascination for.

London-born Stezaker, a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art, is an artist of both national and international reputation. He was one of the first generation of British conceptual artists exhibiting in the late 1960s and 70s. However, I fail to see anything original here.

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Comment left by Hettie Norm on 7th February, 2011 at 10:57
I am not the sort of person who would suggest that everyone should like the same thing. If the reviewer has a particular distaste for the work of Stezaker, which she appears to, then she is entitled to this opinion. However, I do begrudge the overused rhetoric "I could have done that". Baring in mind that the artist has constructed each piece by pairing two images from a personal archive of thousands - that the pieces align details of the physical form with those in nature, so that branches ajoin with bone structures, crevices with creases of the skin. This isn't simply a case of finding a portrait and sticking a postcard over it - unless the reviewer would like to create a series of works that prove otherwise?

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