STUDYING ARCHITECTURE (MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY, AUSTRALIA) 1963-1967
For me, the architecture course was both a wonderful experience and without question, as Saul Steinberg said,
"...a marvellous training for anything...". It certainly was my passport for travelling the globe and discovering and engaging in the creative world.
At one time or another, over the years, I have had the privilege of being something of: an architect, engineer, archaeologist, artist, printmaker, photographer, designer, graphic artist, lecturer, computer programmer, computer artist, publisher, editor, etc, etc, all with much production and some success - as in the spirit of Steinberg's maxim. He never mentioned, however, that one could ever make much of a real fortune though!
GRATUITOUS ANECDOTE: ‘GREAT ART’ FROM FIRST YEAR
On our first year excursion to her foundry/studio, Inge King invited us to try out her welding apparatus/machine
and I was the only one, very willingly too, to accept. The result, later titled, “The Donkey” by my niece, was displayed for about 40 years on roof of my mum's backyard shed in West Preston.
Mum passed away in 2002 and this ‘much loved’ sculpture was inherited by my sister. It is now used to cover the 'spare house keys' in her front garden in [location withheld!].
Len Breen, The Donkey. Welded Steel, 1963
Inge King's, “Shearwater” (1995), which can be seen on Melbourne’s Southbank.
Quite a statement, much as my 'donkey', I like to imagine.
(Inge King passed away in April 2016 at the great age of 100 years. I am honoured to have my tiny link to her and her art - and to my archi days.)
BIT OF HISTORY
I met Indy (Gunaratna) in first year, we married in the fourth.
After working in Melbourne for a year or so after I had graduated, we travelled, lived and worked in Asia and Europe. I worked on some very exciting, sometimes exotic, architectural projects, in Colombo (with Justin Samarasakera Associates), Rome (with Rader Mileto - Interplan) and London (BDP and Rock Townsend). I also was encouraged (by one Garry Martin) to be the Site Architect on two archaeological digs in Iran (1976) and Afghanistan (1977). These all proved to be just extraordinary and enlightening experiences.
UN Convention Against Torture (2000), for Amnesty International.
On returning to London, I made another discovery that changed everything for me - it was the Central School of Art & Design (just next door to Rock Townsend’s office). Taking a sabbatical from architecture, I became a post-graduate art student and fervently studied everything I could about fine art and design practice.
My first London studio in Shepherds Bush, followed, as well as a large volume of work and exhibitions. It was an intense and exciting time, in the ten or so years we lived in the heart of Soho, where we met, mixed with and entertained a host of creative friends and colleagues.
My graphic art led me to working with a number of international organizations, art groups and personalities on projects mainly addressing political and humanitarian issues. The most prestigious of these commissions were for Amnesty International, Chile Solidarity, War on Want, CND and London Against Racism.
And some work was exhibited internationally, winning a number of awards and prizes, and can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery of Australia and public museums in Lahti, Moscow and Paris, Germany, Poland, and Iraq (although this museum, I understand, was bombed to bits - my work included I assume - probably by the Aussies, Yanks, Poms and others!).
Also around this time, Indy eventually gave up on London (and the poor struggling artist in a garret of his own idealism') and returned to her mother in Australia.
From this point I was invited to teach full-time, and became a lecturer in visual communication at Kingston University. There I learnt as much as I contributed - a key to teaching - and soon discovered the emerging computer graphics in the Computer Science Department. This I enthusiastically studied and eventually wrote and produced a wide range of programs for computer visualization. My architectural partiality led initially to the creation of the original multiple interactive perspective drawing and animation applications.
It has always been really a great joy to see the computer code I wrote transform into amazing and awesome images - drawing by magic - or numbers - and which could move too!
I then met the lovely and brilliant artist and teacher Sarabjit, and we moved first to Pimlico, then to Bloomsbury. We had a son, Kesar ('Kes'). (He later graduated with a Master’s in Information Engineering from Cambridge University in 2012, I am very, very proud to say. Among his many talents, he's also a multi-instrumental musician! Wembley awaits! (See also his ‘startup’ at: ellative.com)
Around 1986 I was invited to join Middlesex University, then emerging as one of the world's leading institutions for computer art and graphics. I became the leader of a specialist centre of excellence – now the Centre for Computer Arts. Our Master’s students were extraordinary, producing amazing computer graphics, animation and art. Some went on to great success in Hollywood and elsewhere, even scoring an Academy Award or two.
But in 1996 I joined the (Industrial) Design Department at Brunel University, became the head of visual communications, and moved with my family to the Gatehouse on the beautiful Runnymede campus - beside the golf course too! The department's great strength was, at that time, a combination of its unique multi-disciplinary mix of applied engineering, design and art and its extraordinary teaching team, of which I was very proud to be a member. Interestingly, the programmes we taught had much in common, in breadth and depth, as our own architecture course. And again, the students achieved remarkable quality of creative design, and success. Unbelievably, the bureaucrats sold the site and forced, first the depletion, then closure, of the Department.
So I returned in 2006 to my studio/home on 'the edge of the Farnborough Moors', set up my publishing 'empire' in the ‘garden shed’ and focused on my graphic art and web development. From there I now fill large, fat sketchbooks with surrealistic jokes and aphorisms (and rubbish), build vast web sites and splash ink and paint around - and make books about it all.
If you have the energy you can see all my work at: www.lenbreen.com If you are reading this you are in fact here - or there!
There is a lovely word in the Welsh language, ‘hiraeth’ - there is no direct equivalent in English apparently, but it (sort of) means ‘homesickness tinged with grief or sadness, a longing or yearning, a nostalgia for a home that’s hard to get to’.
I do miss Australia (home) a lot, feel something of an émigré, and I express this in my art. While I have changed course somewhat, I am very aware that architecture has always informed my work and, so from time to time, I am prompted by it to reflect upon the 'Archi School’ and my friends, colleagues and contemporaries - pleasant memories, coloured by a touch of sadness.
Remembering, Branco Pancic, Margaret Scott (McGrath), Bill Mitchell and John Peck, who were good friends - and I have sadly lost touch with some others from those wonderful Architecture School days - some enjoyably renewed at the '2013 Reunion' though.
Len Breen (First Year Rep in ’63 - you may recall with great excitement??!!!)