The End (the film) is a collage comprising three identical postcard-sized images of the clock tower of Big Ben, viewed against a brightly coloured sunset, fixed in a column to black paper. The artist has described the work:
It’s a picture of Big Ben with an unreal, ‘apocalyptic’ sunset – the result of a combination of atmospheric pollution and the degradation of the printing plates. The original was one of those giant postcards sold in souvenir shops of a scene of the Thames and Westminster with Big Ben in the corner. I cut this postcard-sized fragment from the original; I thought of it as a cinematic zoom in. The image has been in my possession since my teens and I kept it on the mantelpiece wherever I lived as a student (and after) as a reminder of this apocalyptic possibility of an art subsumed by popular culture.
(Quoted in Norwich Gallery Dispatch 123, exhibition brochure, [p.1].)
The collage is one of several related works that Stezaker made in 1975 using the image of Big Ben, taken from postcards and a film still. He first encountered the image of Big Ben when his family moved to London from Worcester in the 1950s and his parents bought a slide projector, which was accompanied by a free ‘trial’ slide showing Westminster, Big Ben and the Thames. During this period, Stezaker also encountered the postcard showing the famous symbols of London on his journeys into the city to visit the Tate Gallery, where he was inspired by the fauvist paintings of André Derain (1880–1954), in particular The Pool of London 1906 (N06030). At home, he projected the slide onto a piece of primed hardboard and copied the image with paint. Although disappointed by the result, Stezaker was not deterred from the subject and he bought a postcard in order to find another way of painting it. Living with the image over the years, he gradually snipped it down vertically and horizontally until the giant postcard was reduced to the crop of the collaged rectangles in The End (the film).
The title words The End refer to the convention used in early British Cinema of ending films with a night-view of Big Ben at midnight, often accompanied by the clock’s chimes. In his exhibition at Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London in 1975, Stezaker used this convention to mark a radical shift in his work away from a pure conceptualism, in which images were subordinate to their captions, to a focus on the image alone. He placed the word ‘THE’ (taken from the end of a film) next to the vanishing point of a motorway on a postcard image, cutting out an empty rectangle from the postcard in the space where the word ‘END’ should have been, so that it gave directly onto the gallery wall and thus presented the literal end of the caption. Many years later, he used a film still showing the face of Big Ben, on which the words ‘THE END’ are superimposed, as the title label for a poster-sized version of the postcard crop of The End (the film) in the 2000 exhibition Live in Your Head at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. This still was taken from a collection of images of Big Ben from British black and white movies of the 1940s and 1950s that the artist has been compiling since the mid 1970s. The reference to the film in the title of Tate’s collage relates to the experimental films American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–87) was producing during the 1960s. Stezaker has explained:
When I became a student and discovered Duchamp and the early ideas about found images, the postcard fragment took on a greater significance ... [But] much more important to me, at that time, than Duchamp was Warhol and in particular his ‘still’ films especially Empire which I saw around the time I produced the collage The End. But even before I saw it at the Arts Lab in Robert Street I was familiar with the film frames used to reproduce it in books and magazines. I was especially struck by the convention used at the time for structural films of reproducing a sequence of frames in a vertical ‘ladder’, sometimes two, sometimes three. This was almost invariably used when reproducing images from Warhol’s still films (Empire, Sleep, Kiss, etc.). By imitating this format in the collage I was, I thought, producing a conceptual film which went one step further than Warhol in terms of stillness.
(Letter to the author, 26 October 2007.)
In another related work, The End (T12340), Stezaker arranged nine postcard images of Westminster overlapping in a column, in an order determined by the shade of the sky. The artist began collecting postcards and film stills in 1973, the year he finished studying Painting and Aesthetics at the Slade School of Art in London (1967–73, BA, MA). Since the late 1970s, they have become a core material in his art, which is based on cutting and juxtaposing found images. For Stezaker, the group of works collectively titled The End represent Thanatos, or death, in relation to Eros, or life, represented by a group of collages he created in 1977–8 entitled Eros, made from postcards of the statue of Eros in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Like the Big Ben works, the Eros collages arrest a moment in the cinematic flow of images offered by the city. The discovery of the Situationist International through the writing of Guy Debord (1931–94), particularly his foundational text Society of the Spectacle (1967, first published in English in 1970), strongly influenced Stezaker’s practice from the mid 1970s onwards.
Mark Sladen and Ariella Yedgar, Panic Attack!: Art in the Punk Years, exhibition catalogue, Barbican Art Gallery, London 2007, pp.162–3 and 173.
Andrea Tarsia, Live in Your Head, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2000, p.153 reproduced (detail).