Robert Breer was an American experimental filmmaker, painter, and sculptor who spent the formative years of his career living, working, and exhibiting in Paris. An influential artist in the fields of kinetic sculpture and experimental filmmaking during the mid-to-late twentieth century, Breer made stop-motion films that grew out of a desire to imbue his paintings with movement. Rebelling against the rigidity of Modernist painting in the linear, reactionary mode of developing new art movements that was at the time à la mode, Breer decided to take change as his own modernist absolute, a choice which would lead him through kinetic sculpture to film.
Breer’s 16mm animated films range from colorfully choreographed geometric compositions to darker, visceral portrayals of the state of politics and popular culture in America in the 1960s through 1990s and are scattered with scenes and sound clips of baseball games, biplanes, and political speeches. Much of Breer’s work echoes memories of the American experience of the wars of the mid to late twentieth century. Employing a range of techniques, including collage, hand-drawn rotoscoping – a technique that involves tracing from frames of live film footage – interlaced still photographic images, and live 16mm film footage, Breer composes lively, nimble films that present an intimate, modest, and personal portrait of slices of shared lives and eras.
High Line Art presents a range of works that showcase the development of the artist’s career, which spanned the course of over 40 years. Form Phases 4 (1954), a silent film that bears a direct relationship to Breer’s early vibrant abstract painting practice, represents Breer’s earliest abstract animations. A later film, Gulls and Buoys (1972) enters into Breer’s more personal work, offering a lyrical portrait of a relaxing day at the seaside, though at times accented by the sound of biplanes overhead. A rotoscoped, itinerant work that follows the artist on a train trip through the mountains of Japan, Fuji (1974) is bookended by live film footage of the artist on his meandering locomotive journey.
Photos by Timothy Schenck