Chapter 57. The Case of Claude Breeze
In Art and Architecture in Canada: A Bibliography and Guide to the Literature, Loren Lerner and Mary Williamson summarized an article by Barry Lord, From the Deck at North Surrey: Landscape and Figure in the Art of Claude Breeze, which appeared in artscanada 24 (Aug-Sept 1971). Their comments included: The universality of his work derives its authenticity and power from the artists 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, commenting on the superficiality of the tourist ads that conflate the natural splendour around Vancouver with tourism, observed, it is the glory and the human effects on its gross exploitation.
Lords article surveyed Breezes artistic output from 1962 to 1971 for an exhibition entitled Claude Breeze 10 Years, held at the Vancouver Art Gallery from September 29 to October 24, 1971. Most of the work referenced Breezes signature compositions, which featured the figure in the landscape; however, the only sculptural piece included in the exhibition was the one shown in the picture. Breeze used a sculptural medium to represent human heads suggestive of human life long since expired, encased in vitrines resting on plinths they were deliberately reminiscent of a museum exhibit curiosity.
Breezes paintings spoke to the health and sustainability of the landscape as an important determinant for human survivability, and his figures personified an ecological and empathetic relationship with their environment.
Lords insightful article framed the imagery in the exhibition in terms of a conflict between the natural and constructed environment but did not offer any solutions.
Breezes works continue to remain relevant to this day by insisting on the importance of a symbiotic relationship with the natural world. Traditional Canadian Northwest Coast First Nations and other Indigenous stories speak to that relationship between human survivability and the natural world, and perhaps we, as a society, should learn from their intrinsic truths.
The damaging effects of climate change on the biosphere have been well-documented and foreshadow the possibility of a disruption of human and other life on the planet. It is obvious that we need to collectively act to ensure our survival by re-enchanting our understanding of the natural world as a necessity for long-term sustainablity and survivability. That is, to re-mythologize the idea of the magnificient machine, called Earth, whose workings we do not completely understand.