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Colin Perry on London counter-culture legend Ian Breakwell


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Ian Breakwell, Unword, 1969

In the latest Art-Agenda dispatch, Colin Perry has written an interesting text on London counter-culture legend Ian Breakwell:

Ian Breakwell was an iconic figure of London’s counter-culture in the 1960s and ’70s whose bleak and laconic text-works, films, performances, and photo-collages explored motifs of alienation, desire, and bathos. Always something more than a gallery artist, Breakwell worked with organizations such as the London Filmmakers’ Co-op (LFMC), the Artist Placement Group, and (in the 1980s) Channel 4 television in the UK.(1) This exhibition centers on Breakwell’s early works from the 1960s and 1970s, and is organized in-house, between gallerist Anthony Reynolds and Jacqui Davies, who has produced works for Random Acts, Channel 4’s strand of experimental short films and videos. Given this backdrop, it seems odd that this exhibition does not include any of Breakwell’s moving-image works. This show is therefore partial—a small fragment rather than a full retrospective of his work during this period.

Thankfully, the two-dimensional works shown here do much to reveal and celebrate Breakwell’s convulsive and anarchic imagination. Most of the pieces are covered in dense webs of handwritten notes, so the exhibition demands a great deal of reading. The Kill (1969) is composed of two panels: on the right is a jaunty illustration, presumably sampled from a children’s storybook, of workmen delivering furniture to a bourgeois household; on the left panel a text recounts a gruesome tale of a murder and dismemberment. It’s a fearsome, angry piece, with the middle-class family cast as the complacent seat of modern violence. Description of a Picture (1968) is a text-based drawing on paper whose writing begins in the mode of humorless, self-referential conceptualism—“This picture is drawn on coloured inks on paper, forty inches high and twenty-five inches wide”—before slewing off in a garrulous, psychedelic description of scenes featuring Father Christmas, a clown, cats, dogs, children, and soldiers.

Read the full review here.