You can thank John Stezaker’s hybrid portraits for the recent outbreak of severed sightless heads popping up on my blog over recent days, but another bit of the Kick-About #47 prompt was the specific title of Stezaker’s photographic collages – Marriage.
I happen to be married to someone who is willing to share his home with a disembodied head, and the guy who made it. These last photographs are for my husband, Paul, by way of reassurance: however weird things get, I’m still right here and very likely laughing my arse off.
For this week’s rummage through the archives of ‘stuff wot I’ve done’, it’s an airing for another of those sad little songs written all the way back in the early-mid 2000s, when I was licking wounds of one sort or another. I can just about recall the melody for the chorus (a few lines of it anyway), but other than that, only the words remain, and also the feelings that gave rise to them.
I admit I’ve got some cheek and I admit I’ve got some nerve now wanting your attention after so successful a body-swerve after insisting it was over. after insisting on meaning it after announcing plain and simple, our so called-love, I’m leaving it and it’s not that I regret one word or would reverse the hands of time or contest my intuition or that common sense of mine but there’s something gone awry in our story, though still true details inadmissable because I needed to hate you so forgive me this confession. I’m not re-attaching strings when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things
‘cos you were also a warmth, you were a sound in my head and you were the way particular words got said you were the smell of the soap on the palms of my hands that bemused concentration whenever I told you my plans you were pub-smoke, you were cinnamon on our one christmas eve that distraught little boy when I said I would leave you were the hand leaving mine, you put these breaks in my heart our sum sure wasn’t great, but I still love you in parts
I won’t come knocking on your door, won’t be waking you from sleep won’t be finding how to justify now some ill-advised repeat won’t make believe I was passing or stand before you wet from the rain won’t forget the whys and the reasons, won’t waste more breath trying to explain and it’s not that I’m not torn or sometimes mourn those days with you but how to even tell you and keep my promise true? I know I’m better off this way because I’m stronger now and free how I had to hurt you back this once to finally stop us from hurting me so forgive me my confusion and any grief it welcomes in when I tell you, like a thirst I just miss the little things
the point on me is lost of my simultaneous default of now confessing joy when it’s not a ploy and i’m content with our result when the way things are still suits me and I’m as pleased as punch I had my say I lie awake less, my bed emptied, no longer rueing our worst of days but it’s not that i’m at rest, I am, at best, a man who knows a little less now about love-stories, about the way they’re supposed to go but I do know you deserve somehow more now than what got said neither crumbs or guilty gifts but the truth of it instead so understand me, this annotation, around you i’m not running rings when I tell you like a thirst, I just miss the little things
Another day, another collection of disembodied heads arranged just-so on my living room sofa, all for the purposes of producing some John Stezaker-inspired photographs for the Kick-About No. 47, and all in the name in art. Our small front room (where these pictures were taken) is dominated by a large bay window – a veritable goldfish bowl for any passersby – so quite what the neighbours thought is anyone’s guess.
Muses come in all shapes and sizes – even, it seems in the shape of a poorly-sewn head and an ox-blood coloured sofa.
As I went about my merry way, leaving my Stezaker-inspired fizzog about our narrow terraced house, certain set-ups offered up much more than others. There was something agreeably visceral about the rich, chuck-steak reds of our old leather sofa that really did the trick, with some of the resulting photographs channelling the likes of Ed Gein and the images of Joel-Peter Witkin.
When Whitstable gets very busy, those-in-the-know eschew the more popular bits of the beach and head-off towards the West Beach, where you won’t get a pint or a bag of chips, but you will get treated to the impressionist splendour of the colonies of wild flowers covering the shingle. Throw in a few old wooden boats, their ice-cream colours peeling appealingly, and you’ve got a a little patch of painterly perfection.
A second set of photographs produced in response to the photographic collages of John Stezaker, the prompt for our most recent Kick-About together. In some of these images, the titular head-piece has been given eyes, fashioned from two pickled onion-sized balls of tights-stuffed-with-fluff, which I decided against using again in other compositions. The eyes, such as they were, had the effect of undoing some of the deconstruction of the face, pushing the head towards something hokier. As it is, I couldn’t help thinking about this scene from Friday The 13th Part 2 (viewer discretion advised), my husband reacting similarly each time he turned a corner to find my disembodied muse looking back at him from the corner of the bathroom floor.
All of this began simply enough: in response to the Kick-About No. 47, try and construct a new face from fragments in a John Stezaker-style, and in so doing, seek to produce something as unsettling as some of the photographer’s sepia chimeras.
Reaching for the remainders of some nylon tights and toy-stuffing left-over from the very first Kick-About, I set about sewing together a new face around the shell of a white balaclava. I wanted to produce a fine-art object, as opposed to anything too illusionist, something a bit deconstructed, with its seams showing and the fact of its construction left conspicuous. In this, I looked to Stezaker’s own collages, which likewise make no secret of their provenance of different parts.
The head-thing fabricated, I then left it about the house, like a thing left behind or dropped, and photographed it in situ. At times creepy, and at other times rather sad-seeming, this quickly-produced face-of-bits kept accruing personality and the uncanny ability to seem life-like, even in spite of its obvious anatomical imprecisions and sticky-out bits of thread. That’s the thing about faces, I suppose – even the ones fashioned badly out of tights and Kapok; we can’t help relating to them.
Our last Kick-About, inspired by the writings of Gaston Bachelard, encouraged us to examine our domestic spaces and think about the physical and emotional parameters of home. Now, with John Stezaker’s uneasy marriage between photographic fragments as our starting pointing, we’re exploring issues of identity, affinity and discord.
“Life can be scary – survival of the fittest – relationships can bring together different strengths, and if nothing more, give you the courage to bungle on. My image is simple – a river pushing dangerous detritus along – life. I was wanting to have an overlay of two figures swirling about and holding hands but it was too naive looking, and too complicated with the background, so I struggled to find an alternative representation. The lines represent two different shades of people (a couple – sorry such a vanilla representation of marriage) and their individual positive qualities merging to form a barrier protecting the couple from the detritus. The ring blur demonstrates how marriage can soften the edges of thorny life. The colour is joyous (I hope) as marriage is to me (if a lot quieter.)”
“When I started looking at John Stezaker’s ‘Marriage’, the thing that struck me most was that ever-present straight line running through each image, often more than once Was this the joint where two personalities dovetailed? Or a boundary line, safeguarding personal territory? Are people diminished by marriage? Or magnified? So I started thinking about some of the models of marriage I’ve come across. and came up with some ‘Marital Maths’.”
“I’m always doing that surrealist kind of thing with human bodies and collage so I decided to try something different. I liked the idea of using one or two inserted elements, as my work is usually much more complex. Instead of using classic film stars I decided to use the work of classic painters. I took Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, cut it up, and inserted it into works by Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Homer. They work together quite well I think.”
“I luckily came across some old toys belonging to my grandsons which were waiting to be recycled and I thought they would look great if I combined a few of them and turned them into some very strange looking creatures. This then inspired me to do some collage using some old photos and magazine cuttings to create some more fantastical beings, which looked like they had sprung from the pages of a Marvel comic.”
“By putting two different images together Stezaker seems to create a third dimension, so, ‘sort of’ following this train of thought I’ve dovetailed two extreme scenarios on an old alarm clock set to silent. (Another thought.. weren’t the lurid green numbers painted with something containing uranium to make it shine in the dark?).
Scenario 1: Apocalypse – midnight on the doomsday clock. A young girl runs for her life, her clothes shredded, the sky dark, as a mushroom cloud reaches the stars.
Scenario 2: The clock strikes twelve. Cinderella flees from the ball as her coach, horses, footmen and dress disappear in a puff of pink smoke…the fairy Godmother waves her wand… Abracadabra!”
“A strange and unsettling prompt this time. John Stezaker’s work stirs up a variety of different feelings when I look at them, feelings that are quite difficult to articulate. There is something about the violence of cutting up a picture of a human face that makes such images as ‘Marriage’ quite a visceral experience for me. I can almost feel the slice of the scalpel, and I wince at the thought of accidents and slips with the knife; as an artist who uses collage a lot in my work, I’m well used to my hands sporting at least a couple of plasters covering cuts and scrapes.
Stezaker’s portraits also make me think of Francis Bacon paintings, of how he attacked the faces of his sitters in paint, carving them open with the brush to create images that look like something from a butcher’s shop window. I’ve gone down a similar route with my Kick-About response this week, cutting up photos of glamorous people from glossy magazines, smearing their faces with oil pastel, and mangling them further in Procreate to make fractured images of half-remembered nightmares.”
“Because Stezaker drew inspiration from dadaism and surrealism by kitbashing and appropriating images into bizarre collages, I decided to splice together some absurdities in a fun, no fucks given kind of way – all images nicked from the public domain, of course.”
“All of this began simply enough: try and construct a new face from fragments in a Stezaker-style, and in so doing, seek to produce something as unsettling as some of the photographer’s sepia chimeras.
Reaching for the remainders of some nylon tights and toy-stuffing left-over from the very first Kick-About, I set about sewing together a new face around the shell of a white balaclava. I wanted to produce a fine-art object, as opposed to anything too illusionist, something a bit deconstructed, with its seams showing and the fact of its construction left conspicuous. In this, I looked to Stezaker’s own collages, which likewise make no secret of their provenance of different parts.“
“The head-thing fabricated, I then left it about the house, like a thing left behind or dropped, and photographed it in situ. At times creepy, and at other times just rather sad-seeming, this quickly-produced face-of-bits kept accruing personality and the uncanny ability to seem life-like, even in spite of its obvious anatomical imprecisions and sticky-out bits of thread. That’s the thing about faces, I suppose – even the ones fashioned badly out of tights and Kapok; we can’t help relating to them.”
“The other bit of the prompt I was interested in was the title of Stezaker’s collages, ‘Marriage’: I happen to be married to someone who is willing to share his home with a disembodied head, and the guy who made it. These last photographs are for my husband, Paul, by way of reassurance: however weird things get, I’m still right here and laughing my arse off.”
With many thanks to regular Kick-Abouter, Marion Raper, we have our new prompt, the work of contemporary textile artist, Louise Baldwin. Have fun.
With its back tight up against the rise of the woods, and its chalky face looking out over the meadow, the Widow’s House is effortlessly photographic – or do I mean, cinematic? Every time I visit France, I take another photograph of this silent, empty dwelling, drawn to it like an illustration in a book of fairy tales that both delights and spooks.