John Stezaker (b. 1949) is a British artist who in the 1970s who was a student at the Slade in London, at the same time as Marcel Broodthaers was working on his films. They shared a fascination with literature, Surrealism, film and the obsolete image. Although Stezaker met Broodthaers on only a few occasions, he had a profound impact on his work, especially in freeing it from the stranglehold of Anglo-American conceptualism, opening it up to the influence of European Dada and Surrealism.
Many artists in the 1970s embarked on a diligent quest for ways to find alternatives for the auto-referential art of so-called conceptual art.For some artists, this had become something of a 'cul-de-sac'. Broodthaers had become a rallying point for British artists dissatisfied with the iconophobia of conceptual art and who were trying to find new ways of addressing images. Stezaker was one of these artists who was interested in using found images but who wishe to avoid the uncritical celebratory ethos of Pop. Combining/assembling found images (photographs) instantly generated a different form of aesthetics, in which anachronisms and a vagueness about intentions took control of a well-made (visual) plot that served to disrupt the public's perception. Broodthaers indicated that there was an alternative tradition to Duchamp, Pop and conceptualist appropriation in the Surrealist movement that was deeply unpopular in avant-garde circles at the time.
For Stezaker, appropriating old (antique) prints is like 'pursuing, being close on the heels of a shadow or ghost of the image of the day.' Stezaker's observation seems to tune in to the surrealism of for example Max Ernst, in which the psyche plays an important part in a visual language that is well-wrought and characterized by a demonic 'underground'.
Stezaker's photographic collages are a play of fore- and background. His meticulously superimposed photographs challenge the eye because two worlds overlap.
The collages are created with photographs that have been laid over each other with great perfection and that come to a standstill in a balanced composition. The resulting works are co-images that in part from their suggestive psychological background that links various content make us think of Max Ernst's surrealism and the less-known photographic oeuvre of surrealist/writer Paul Nougé.
Stezaker's staged worlds are well-defined and strictly framed. Photographs of anonymous persons are partially hidden by often idyllic images that are derived from nature.
One work even features an eagle against a background of an image/film still from days long gone. In this image a group of actresses and actors is largely hidden from our view because of a photographic overlap that disrupts the image and thus generates in the spectator's mind a preposterous content. It is one of his more explicit homages to Broodthaers. In fact, the artist plays a subtle game with and between showing and hiding images-found images that insinuate suspense, fear, violence, dreams or ... nightmares.
The artist uses a tried-and-tested artistic technique to slow down the world and its perception, and to protect it from clichés and a matter-of-course casualness.
The superimpositions of photographs thus generate the same 'effect' a well-made surrealist painting produces. In this work the photograph takes the place of paint. It is no longer the medium that counts here and today-it is the power of the image as such within the perspective and as a generator for the imagination.
The artist constructs a special, bizarre and confusing world through minimal interventions. He patiently 'shakes' two photographic images within a frame, in a play with a foreground and background image, greatly stimulating our fantasy-his works of art are and remain 'open', unaccompanied as they are by any applicable, culturally layered codes.
Stezaker's photomontages are and remain mysterious. Their content is derived solely and at most by painstakingly and subjectively combining found, cleverly selected photographs. It is up to the public to look carefully, sharply and intently. The story will (then) show up without further effort.
Marcel Broodthaers was a romantic in heart and soul who 'form-ulated' art in tangible/visible poetry: as it were in a single grand suite about the insoluble issues situated between language and image. In these blissful folds he generated an 'in-between zone' from which language could not escape.
Broodthaers loved using prints. He bought them in second-hand bookshops-in shops where cultural, printed products such as traditionally reproduced prints and books could measure themselves, albeit for a reduced price/lesser value, with a (subjective) commercial value.
Freddy De Vree proposed that 'art is the gravestone of the failure of our culture.' Broodthaers probably visualizes and debits this failure. He narrowly manages to preserve the cultural artefacts he acquired through a personal longing and respect and carefully restores their place in his oeuvre-prints and objects his mind dwelt on as he composed his autonomous constellations with his sophisticated technique.
In the nineteenth century publishing prints became popular. It created an avalanche of images that illustrated the taste of the public at large. Scientific picture books, price catalogues of department stores and the arrival of the first comic strip, along with the nineteenth-century presence of worldly artists such as Mallarmé, Grandville and Baudelaire, constituted the ideal 'warehouse' to insert images into a lonely in-between zone-images that were a priori an antidote against everything that had to do with 'artificiality', which Broodthaers would fight with every useful means at his disposal.
In particular the artist's projections feature countless popular and sometimes hilarious prints with a sententious-educational undertone. They show us a trace of nostalgia for a lost innocence through images that especially in the 'fleeting' present are on the verge of vanishing in an ocean of glossy, empty digital mass images.
Marcel Broodthaers's art moves and shifts with time and orders and reorders meticulously selected prints and (bourgeois) objects within-what a paradox!-the surroundings of the museum, i.e. in a display/presentation/decor the artist's critical judgement visualized with reference to the place of art and the official attention for art. He preserved as it were art in a broadly spreading culture that today more than ever finds itself in the turbulent danger zone of latent oblivion.
He combined images that are 'outside time' and outside our time; that results in constantly new interpretations that relate to the future and the constantly changing spirit of the age, as well as the constantly changing cultural climate of time passing. Time as a mirror of reinterpretations.
The motifs of the prints had lost their content. They had been birds, ships and marine scenes-motifs that particularly reminded one of the evocation of an open 'atmosphere' that lacked any 'decoding' finality. In that sense Broodthaers was interested in empty, yet recognizable shapes from which a specific, evident content had disappeared. 'Containers' such as mussels and eggs, which as everyday consumables and foodstuffs could be filled with a non-imperative new content that was within the capacity and incapacity of language. Mussels and eggs as moulds, fillable objects, stripped of their direct use and which, placed in the context of art, incarnate a poetical-mental power that allowed thought to rove freely.
Broodthaers was able to annex and alienate everyday consumption/disposable residues and add an 'opinion' that turned them into high art and resulted in works of art in which increasingly the meaning and the position of art in society were encircled and advocated. - Luk Lambrecht