The light, the darkness, contrasts, removing and appointing; John Stezaker presented his new show The Projectionist at The Approach Gallery this spring.
Going back to working with monochromatic silkscreen prints yet staying focused with his use of 1940s and 50s film noir stills, Stezaker presents us with four, large-scale works and another series of five small collages displayed in the gallery’s viewing room, aside from the show. These four silkscreen prints feed off each other in an endless light and dark game of reflections. Two facing the opposite ends of the gallery, on the right, a man standing in front of a window, hunched over as the dim light, hidden by the dramatic and dark clouds is cast onto his jaw line. He is holding something, something important, seemingly vital as his right arm cradles it, above his uncluttered desk. This whole scenario is sliced through by the pale white blinding circle of light appearing around what he nests within his arms. His left hand appears to be revealing this bright confident sphere in a self-conscious manner.
On the left hand-side of the gallery, this same incisive circle has been ‘projected’ or reproduced onto the second silkscreen print, as if it were the deed of the mysterious man from the previous and directly opposed work. The rounded shape is larger, more imposing, which is what creates this direct link to a projection; the further you are, the bigger the image. This relationship becomes so important that I forget to look ‘behind’ the light-filled circle and notice a man, bent forward, observing or simply peering through. What is he so intrigued by? Is it the grandeur of the projected light? Is it the anonymous people standing behind it? We fail to remember, oblivious that there was, indeed a reason for this man to be interested enough to rock himself forward in order to get a closer look, that there was another purpose to this ‘still’ and that Stezaker has taken that meaning and sublimed it with a new life in a new light.
Another two prints defy and complete each other facing the two remaining walls of the gallery. Black is the screen; black is the frame or the lack of narrative. For these two prints, Stezaker toys with individual black rectangles angled and creating a specific perspective, disrupting the voice of the background image. Two women standing in a defeated posture: the younger one slightly wrapped by her elders arm. This young woman observes with a discouraged gaze, into the black shape cut or pasted in this scene. We delineate the ‘edges’ of a man’s body, sat down. What did he do to deserve such spite?
The last print shows two children staring, hypnotised by this black rectangular form hiding the sliced figures of a man and a woman standing before them. The key element has been removed. Our understanding of the work is based on this foreign shape that lodges and has made a new home within the image. Unlike the two, white-light-filled images resembling a projection, this second pair embodies a removal, a subtraction or a platform for projection. The etymology of the word projection is to ‘throw forth’. If we take this into consideration when looking at Stezaker’s work, and the title of his show, we find ourselves between projection and absorption. Stezaker plays with the act of adding or removing, of darkness and light. The simple fact of using a medium such as screen-printing where the ink seeps through the ‘empty’ zones of the stencil becomes an act of addition and subtraction, as do his collages.
The viewing room of the gallery, small and intimate, displays five small framed collages. Two of them are made from cut-up outlines of figures pasted onto an intimate image of a couple and a still of two trench-wearing men. Here, Stezaker uses the juxtaposition of frame and content whilst playing with overturned angles to twist our perspective. The image of this couple is upside down whilst the outline of what we delineate to be three men is the right way up. The same process applies for the image of the two men apposed with the delimitation of three men wearing hats. This game of direction and suggestion appears as a reflection or the mirroring of a projection where narratives meet.
The last three images link with Stezaker’s silkscreen prints in the ever so present ‘white light’ or void he has made by cutting through stills. One depicting a clear rectangular shape set between the tension of a standing man observing his seated female companion as she looks away and the other creating a projection angle widening from a man’s ear, through his face, opening the perspective; as if he were sending a powerful light-beam cast onto whomever the person laying on a bed in front of him was. The last of this series is the exact same image as the silkscreen print where the large white circle illuminates the middle of the image as the anonymous man in the still stands next to it, peering towards it. The two identical works are both entitled Projection. We have now come full circle, the passage of light has hit and reflected onto every possible angle.
Who is The Projectionist? Could it be that anonymous man standing and cradling the powerful tool to launch his light forward? Or could it be us? The viewers? Projecting our own narrative, reflecting and mirroring our ideas, thoughts, darkness or light onto these hinted anecdotes? This question should be left unanswered, as it simply needs to be experienced.