Magazine article Art Monthly

Ian Breakwell

Magazine article Art Monthly

Ian Breakwell

Article excerpt

Ian Breakwell Anthony Reynolds Gallery London March 10 to April 8

Ian Breakwell died of lung cancer in October of last year, and this exhibition operates as both an opportunity to view his final works and as a memorial to the artist. Breakwell was renowned for work that looked at the minutiae of life, often his own, using whatever medium was appropriate to the story he was telling. Words featured prominently, in both spoken and written form, and from the early 60s Breakwell exhibited, published and broadcast his diaries on radio and television. This habit continued until the end of his life, and the works here are accompanied by extracts from his final diaries, which offer an unflinching, and typically unsentimental, account of his illness.

The diary extracts interweave with the series of 13 drawings that dominate the exhibition, offering insights and explanations, as well as encouraging new connections and ruminations. The series was made not long after Breakwell's final diagnosis, in the summer of 2004, and the decision to make 13 pieces of work seems significant, as a symbol of the misfortune that has befallen him. Yet the diary offers an alternative view, that the drawings were the result of insomnia caused by shock, and that he made one each night that he suffered from sleeplessness. 'On the fourteenth night my normal sleep pattern returned and the series ended', he concludes simply. Other numbers appear in the works, with diary entries that see Breakwell calculating the extra years of life he has had compared to other cultural figures--'I've had twice as long as Schubert, twenty years more than Kafka, and forty more than Charlie Christian'--as well as the amount of 'cigarette pauses' he has taken during his smoking life (164,250, although Breakwell's cancer ironically was discovered to be an ardinocarcinoma, unrelated to cigarettes); 62, the number of years of his life, looms regularly in the exhibited artworks.

The drawings are dominated by images of growth, of flowers reaching maturation and fleshy fruit sprouting. One piece sees flowers alluding to a face, with two weary eyes stuck on, peering out exhaustedly, but mostly the organic forms suggest lungs. While portraying immaculate beauty, these growths inevitably morph into sinister, deadly predators. The sparkle of ruby red glitter that is scattered across some works draws you close, only to quickly repel, while others use more overt techniques to spell out Breakwell's circumstances, by utilising shadowy smudges and blood red ink splatters. …

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