Allen S. Weller’s forward from Harry Breen: Retrospective XXV, An Exhibition of his Paintings, Drawings, Prints, and Sculptures.




Looking West

One notes, first of all, Breen’s close relationship with nature­—the limitless skies and the prairies, the richness of the soil, the infinite variety of plant life. Though his vision, at times, approaches the microscopic as he examines the minute details of ground cover, he never loses his sense of scale, and suggests the infinite in the endless horizons of the landscapes. The artist’s sense of nature is a unified and total one in which the movements of clouds are echoed by rippling motions of prairie grasses. These landscapes are completely realized in oils, watercolors, and an unusual group of works in which the artist introduced actual three dimensional elements in the form of plastic clouds. He has broken down the barriers which traditionally have separated painting and sculpture in his search for a total art form.

This positive interest in form as actuality rather than illusion led Breen in the early 1960s to ceramic sculpture with which he has been particularly identified. The subjects are invariably animals, the scale intimate. The species represented range all the way from the farmyard pig to the mythical unicorn with armadillos, anteaters, wart hogs, yaks, llamas, and many others in between. A general sense of humor, a suggestion of satire or irony is in many of them. A variety of materials is employed with great skill—vitreous glazes, copper, stainless steel, plexiglass, lacquer, several kinds of wood, ivory, mirror—always with great precision and taste. The balance between realistic description and stylized form is elegantly established. The animals’ environments are suggested by bases or pedestals which are an essential part of the total design.


Rhino II

A constant element in Breen’s work is his impeccable craftsmanship. He is an artist who respects himself, his public, the content of his work, and the materials with which he works. In a period when many artists resort to intuition on a certain amount of chance it is invigorating to see work which while it is fresh and essentially original is the product of the artist’s conscious thought and will.

Allen S. Weller
Professor of History of Art (1947-1997)
Dean of Fine and Applied Arts (1954-1971)
Director of Krannert Art Museum (1964-1975)
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign