John Stezaker

The End


Not on display

John Stezaker born 1949
9 postcards on paper
437 × 150 mm
Purchased 2007


The End is a collage made by overlapping nine postcards of London’s Houses of Parliament in a vertical row. The overlapping functions as cropping, obscuring the lower half of the postcards. This results in a sequence of sky shots, into which the upper part of Big Ben, some of the tips of the Houses of Parliament and the tower of Westminster Cathedral rise. The artist has commented that a possible subtitle for this work could be Images of Big Ben arranged roughly by the time of the day, as he placed the postcards in order of the deepening shades of the sky, beginning with the darkest, midnight blue at the bottom and ending with a pale, hazy whitish-blue at the top (letter to the author, 26 October 2007). Two further versions of the work comprise twelve similar (and in some cases identical) postcards arranged ‘clockwise and counter clockwise’ (Stezaker quoted in Live in Your Head, p.153). One version begins and ends with the darkest skies, progressing through a sequential lightening of the sky in the centre of the column; the other does the inverse, progressing from day through night and back to day again.

The End is one of several works Stezaker made in 1975 using found images of Big Ben, a tourist icon that has fascinated him since he was a teenager, when his parents acquired a trial slide showing Westminster, Big Ben and the Thames with a projector they bought. The End (the film) (T12348) comprises three identical cropped postcards of Big Ben photographed against a luridly coloured sunset sky and refers to the convention of reproducing film and video work as a vertical sequence of frames in catalogues of the 1960s and 1970s. At the time that he made this work, the artist was particularly thinking of the experimental films of the American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928–87), whose 1964 film Empire was a continuous shot of the New York Empire State Building filmed for eight consecutive hours from dusk until dawn the following day. Stezaker has commented that The End was:

a response to the current conventions of conceptual art in England which was obsessed with photo sequences and chronology ... for several years (between 1973 and 1976 approx) I collected all of the images I could find of the subject both in postcard form and also in films. This was the beginning of my collection of film stills. I discovered that Big Ben was a key image in British Cinema and became a favourite way of ending films – usually with the chimes of midnight. I incorporated one of this collection of cinematic images of Big Ben with the words ‘THE END’ superimposed over it into a later re-presentation of the postcard fragment as a kind of pictorial title label.

(Letter to the author, 26 October 2007.)

The cinematic mapping of the progression of light performed in Empire, not visible in sequences of stills from the film (which show individual frames filmed at twenty-four per second), is suggested in Stezaker’s The End. While The End (the film) mimics the series of (virtually) identical shots of the Empire State Building usually shown in reproductions of the film, replacing the illuminated Empire State Building – an icon of New York – with London’s Big Ben, The End evokes the passage of time while shifting the camera viewpoint. The overlapping of the cards in a continuous column mimics the continuous ‘ladder’ of frames by which Empire is normally represented. At the same time, the postcards are truncated – cut down to thin rectangles to focus on the skies. Their rich colour, like the livid shades of the sunset in The End (the film), provide a witty subversion of Warhol’s eight-hour still epic, returning the notion of the ghostly night-time monument to the pragmatic, humble and often garish tourist memento represented by the postcard. The column of overlapping images recalls the normal display of postcards in vertical racks. As well as showing different light, all the postcards in The End depict a slightly different view of Westminster. Two have small union jacks on upper corners, emphasising the Britishness of the iconography. The combination of blues and reds (the colours of the union jack), or blues and oranges, dominating The End works are also the main colours in a related series Stezaker created in 1977–8 entitled Eros, made from postcards of the statue of Eros in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Blue and red feature strongly in The Pool of London 1906 (N06030) by André Derain (1880–1954), a painting that had a significant influence on the artist when he was a teenager.

The notions of repetition and pseudo-scientific seriality were central concerns of artists associated with the conceptual movement of the early 1970s. The End recalls Camera Recording its Own Condition (7 Apertures, 10 Speeds, 2 Mirrors) 1971 (T03116) by British artist John Hilliard (born 1945), a photo-grid documenting the results of a camera photographing itself using a range of different combinations of apertures and shutter speeds. Stezaker’s earliest exhibited work combined text with image and, like Hilliard, he was included in an exhibition of the first generation of British conceptual artists entitled The New Art at the Hayward Gallery London in 1972. He quickly reacted against this association and turned to ‘image fascination’ as a way to escape the restrictions of purely conceptual art, in which images were secondary to their captions. To mark this shift, and as a kind of farewell to text, in 1975 he juxtaposed an image of the word ‘THE’ (taken from the end of a film) with the vanishing point of a motorway on a postcard image. An empty rectangle cut out of the postcard (in place of the word ‘END’), gave directly onto the wall of Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London, presenting the literal end of the caption in Stezaker’s work. From 1976, the postcard and the film still became core material for his manipulation of imagery from the collective unconscious to bring hidden archetypes and their copies – stereotypes – to light.

Further reading:
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.

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2007

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