Ian Breakwell at Independent Régence Presented by Anthony Reynolds Gallery

Feb 12, 2016 3:54PM

One by One: Year by Year: A Concise History
October 29th to December 12th

Ian Breakwell was a great polymath artist with a roll-call of heart-and-soul-mates that included James Joyce and Robert Walser, Schubert and Thelonius Monk, Goya and Magritte, Ingmar Bergman and Buster Keaton, and who, in the words of Felicity Sparrow was ‘the champion of the underdog. The unseen, the unloved. And the unlovely.’

He was and is a unique and hugely influential figure, one of the greatest exponents of the visual language of word and text. Surrealism, Letterism, Fluxus, Happenings, Systems, chance and order are all part of his make-up. Out of these and his working class Midlands background Breakwell fashioned a brilliant and utterly singular oeuvre. He was a diarist, draughtsman, painter, collagist, film and video maker, performer, broadcaster and writer with a talent for bringing together disparate media and people. 

There is certainly a darkside to his work which frequently verges on the repellent but its essential humanity and surreal humour always triumphs. His texts and images weave together the slight with the profound, digging nuggets of gold out of the mud of the everyday. ‘Reassuringly familiar starting points, i.e. clichés, are the deliberately chosen basis of most of my artwork, whether writings, drawings, paintings, films or videotapes. Then the way is clear to test and turn that familiarity into unexpected forms which hopefully disturb complacency.’

Breakwell died exactly ten years ago, aged 62. This exhibition commemorates the anniversary with an exhibition of one work for every year of his professional career, a selection of 40 pieces that mark the years 1965 to 2005 and are laid out chronologically in an expanded diary form that is characteristic of so much of his work. Each work, while fascinating in itself, offers a tantalising doorway into an oeuvre loaded with riches. An exceptional artist in any medium he handled, it is Breakwell’s mastery of the word, written, spoken and depicted, the word as a visual stimulus, a partner in image-making that sets him apart. On the occasions when no words appear in the work, for example inthe sublime and deeply moving video installation, The Other Side (Tate Collection), thereis  still a story to be told; or remembered; or imagined..

Breakwell was a member of the Artists Placement Group during the 1970s and his work features in the current exhibition Context is Half the Work, at Kunstraum Kreuzberg, Berlin. Fully engaged with film and performance in the late 1960s, his work UNWORD (with Mike Leggett) deployed a revolutionary interweaving of media, staged at the ICA in 1970. He was a contributor to the seminal Video Show at the Serpentine Gallery in 1975 and was the subject of a major exhibition at the ICA in 1977. That show featured Ian Breakwell’s Continuous Diary, a masterpiece of immense proportions covering the years 1969 to 1976 and the most substantial representation of the diary form which always permeated his work. 

A Cambridge University residency in 1980 led to a major series of large-scale works on paper, 120 Days, which were exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1982 and at the legendary Galeria Fernando Vijande in Madrid, the city of Goya, Breakwell’s high priest. A televised 26 programme series of Ian Breakwell’s Diaries was commissioned for Channel 4 in 1984. Recently there have been major survey exhibitions at Quad in Derby (2010) and the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill (2012/13). Ian Breakwell’s diaries have featured in many publications over the past 40 years.

Many of Breakwell’s works are in important public collections, including those of Tate Gallery, The British Council, Arts Council England, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia, and MoMA New York. A DVD anthology of his film work is available from the British Film Institute. The Estate of Ian Breakwell is represented exclusively by Anthony

Press release by Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London for Independent Régence.