Claude Breeze: Hope and Despair in Vancouver.

Claude Breeze standing beside Museum Piece: Genetic Problem Prototype No. 5 1-6 on the deck attached to his home, 12640 Old Yale Road, North Surrey, B.C., c 1969-1970.

In an abstract entry numbered 4909 from Art and Architecture in Canada: A Bibliography and Guide to the Literature to 1981. by Loren Lerner and Mary Williamson the authors summarize an article by Barry Lord entitled From the ‘Deck’ at North Surrey: Landscape and Figure in the Art of Claude Breeze which appeared in Artscanada no 24 (Aug-Sep 1971). Their comments include the following “The universality of his work derives its authenticity and power from the artist’s direct experience of the Canadian West Coast and from what is described as a peculiar combination of hope and despair in Vancouver”

In his article Lord, when commenting on the supeficiality of the tourist ads that conflate the natural splendor around Vancouver with tourism, observes “It is the glory and the shame of the city that almost everywhere in its streets you can lift up your eyes and behold not the hills but precisely the conflict between a magnificient natural setting and the human effects on its gross exploitation”.

Lord’s article surveys Breeze’s artistic output from 1962 -1971 for an exhibition entitled Claude Breeze 10 Years which was held at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Sept. 29 – Oct. 24th 1971. Most of the work referenced Breeze’s signature compositions which featured the figure in the landscape, however the only sculptural piece included was that shown above.

Within the conxext of the anthropocene, Breeze’s paintings speak to the health and sustainability of the landscape as an important determinant for human survivability
and his contorted and somewhat tortured figures personify an ecological and empahatic relationship with their environment. His use of a sculptural medium is, essentially to represent human heads suggestive of human life long since expired, encased in vitrines resting on plinths. They are remaniscent of a museum exhibit curiosity, designed to elicit similar revulsion one might endure on seeing jars of formaldahide containing specimens of deformed or maladaptive humans.

Perhaps the sculpture references future human sustainability, attainable only within the artificially constructed environment of the vitrine, divorced from the natural environment.
Lord’s insightful article frames the imagery in the exhibition in terms of a conflict between the natural environment and the constructed environment but does not offer any solutions to the conumdrum.

Contemporary writers such as Suzi Gablik most recently in her book The Reenchantment of Art has suggested that ‘we need to disolve the dispassionate partriarical consciousness, which has become increasingly maladaptive to the natural and communal world’. She further observes that a ‘remythologizing of consciousness through art and ritual is one way that our culture can regain a sense of enchantment’.

Perhaps we need to take her advice, that is to re-enchant our understanding of the natural world as a necessity for long term sustainablity and survivability.That is to re-mythologise the idea of the magnificient machine, called Earth whose workings we do not completely understand and perhaps never should in order to guarantee our survival. Would it not make our world a more exciting place to live in if we did not understand all its extraordinary functionality?
But wait a minute, are there not traditional First Nations and other indiginous myths which speak to the relationship between human survivability and the natural world?