Ian Breakwell

From Derby, Breakwell’s work was influenced by his Northern working class roots, including entertainers such as George Formby. Most known for his Diary project, which he made throughout his life, he also made performances. Early works include Unword (1970) using found footage and filmed by Mike Leggett, who then became part of the performance. This was made as a film in 2003, and included in exhibitions such as Important Mischief at Leeds City Art Gallery in 2006 – a show about 60s and 70s Performance Art, that also included Stuart Brisley, Helen Chadwick and Bruce Lacey. Another notable performance is One, 1971, shown at the Angela Flowers, London. The audience viewed the upstairs gallery space through a monitor in the storefront at street level. What they saw was not the artist but a group of labourers shovelling earth onto each other’s mounds, thereby cancelling the activity out. This continued for 8 hours, and like a normal day of work they observed union rules, including tea breaks. Some of his other films and videos directly referenced the theatre such as Variety (2001), Auditorium (1994) and Repertory (1973). Breakwell was also a member of the Artist Placement Group, an organisation that placed artists in Government departments and businesses in the hope that they might affect them and wider social change.

Ian Breakwell

Performance documentation / Examples of works

The News and In The Home by Ian Breakwell, 1980
Study Room Ref: V0633

Ian Breakwell (2007) [Includes films Variety, Auditorium and Repertory] Study Room Ref: D0708

Unword (1970/2003)
View Online

One, 1971, with Mike Leggett, Angela Flowers Gallery, London
View Online


BENN, Tony, and STEVINI, Barbara eds. (2012) ‘Social Engineers On The Front Line: Tony Benn And The Artist Placement Group’, Tate Etc, Vol 26, Autumn, pp 76-79
Study Room Ref: A0553

BRIERS, David (2010) ‘Ian Breakwell at QUAD Derby’, Art Monthly, No. 335, pp 31-32
Study Room Ref: A0312

WORSLEY, Victoria (2006) ‘Ian Breakwell’s Unword, 1969-70’ in CURTIS, Penelope (ed.) Early performance art in Britain, No. 52, Henry Moore Foundation
Study Room Ref: A0654

The Video Show, 1975, Serpentine Gallery, London [cat.]


Anthony Reynolds Gallery Website


Felicity Sparrow on Ian Breakwell
View Online