“I find that I can’t work in the day. As soon as my assistant goes home at six o’clock, that’s when my workday begins. I finish at around two o’clock in the morning usually (it used to be five but I can’t do that anymore. I used to believe in the hour of the wolf, that moment just before the sun comes up as being the most creative, but now I can manage two, just about). But that moment when I’m totally defeated…that’s when everything happens, because somehow I’ve lost conscious control of what I’m doing and things are actually happening to me. I won’t go to bed until I’ve done at least one thing where I feel I can wake up in the morning and think ‘that’s a piece’. Very often I do wake up in the morning and it’s dismantled and I start all over again.
Throughout my career I’ve always paid for a studio, which has been a crippling expense as I never ever go there. I work by trying not to think about work. I have to avoid the idea that I’m working; in fact, I often think I’m not working and I find that I have been working, and vice versa. More often these days I think I’m working but actually my head’s somewhere else entirely and I haven’t been working at all.
I think you’ve got to be bored in order to be distracted. My son, for example, lives such an action-packed life that art has no place in it. My life is full of boredom, and therefore full of distraction and possible diversions. If I’ve got an idea, and I’ve always got an idea, and I’m running with that idea and I get things instrumentally together in order to realise that idea – it’s dead in the water. I have to go through at least two major diversions in order to escape the original idea. But often I come back and find the idea. It’s a very perverse sort of arrangement.”
"I think you’ve got to be bored in order to be distracted...My life is full of boredom, and therefore full of distraction and possible diversions."
This is John Stezaker speaking about the virtues of being bored and staying up late. His process of working relies on his self-proclaimed “boring life” as a means to fuel the necessary distractions and creative sidetracks.
A regretful revolutionary, nowadays he looks back on the political upheavals of 1968 and the Slade school sit-in with a repentant eye: “something I regret to be honest, I think we lost more than we gained in that. We lost a lot of good teachers.”
Earlier this year he was taken seriously ill with pneumonia and his doctors sanctioned a cease to his working, an experience he found deeply frustrating. However at the time of writing he’d been back for a few days: “I’m currently working on circles, and that’s going very well, it’s looking very promising.”
John Stezaker was speaking at the Contemporary Art Society as part of their programme of monthly displays and artists’ talks.
Text by Katie Rowley