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Arnolfini - est 1961
image: Ian Breakwell & Mike Leggett, ‘Unword’, 1970 & 2003, black & white video still
courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery


Ian Breakwell (1943-2005) was a unique figure in the development of art in the UK, in the latter part of the twentieth century. Born into a working-class family in Derbyshire in 1943, Ian Breakwell drew on a range of cultural influences, including vaudeville and variety acts (he had performed as a stage magician as a child), as well as conceptual art practices. His work was created through a range of media, including performance, film, television broadcasts, and writing, as well as painting, collage and drawing. Running through it all is a recurrent focus on everyday life, approached through overlooked, humorous or surreal perspectives.

He studied at the West of England College of Art in Bristol, and programmed at the Bristol Arts Centre in the late 1960s. His work was shown at Arnolfini on several occasions through the 1970s and 80s, in both solo and group exhibitions. In this anniversary presentation, in Gallery 5 we are showing part of the Continuous Diary project, which Breakwell is best known for (and which was the focus of his 1977 exhibition at Arnolfini); Carry More Home It’s Smart to be Greedy, which was commissioned by Arnolfini for the digital newscaster outside the Bristol Hippodrome, as part of the exhibition On Site (also 1977); while in the Dark Studio we are showing UNWORD (1969/2003), a film created with Mike Leggett from a series of performance pieces of the same name, partly shot in Bristol.

This is accompanied in the Reading Room by a display of material from Arnolfini’s archive, giving insight into how Breakwell’s work was presented and received in Bristol at the time, and responses by young artists working in Bristol today.

An illustration of a red steam train with black engine, steam coming out of the funnel, against a grey background. Underneath are the words Slow it down, look longer, in black type, then in red type, stop the train.

Slow it down, look longer, stop the train, is a publication created by four students on the BA (Hons) Fine Art course, UWE Bristol – Rosie Bales, Rebecca Edery, Holly Humphries, and Holly Stone. A creative response to Ian Breakwell’s work, it was developed as part of a work experience placement at Arnolfini, in Spring 2021.

Download Slow it down, look longer, stop the train here.

The Ian Breakwell content is part of Arnolfini at 60, a programme celebrating Arnolfini’s 60th anniversary in 2021.

Presented in association with Anthony Reynolds Gallery.


Audio Descriptions
There are audio descriptions of the works in the exhibition, accessible via QR Code in Gallery 5

You can also hear them here:



On Ian Breakwell: Heike Roms interviewed by Phil Owen

Click here to listen to an interview by Phil Owen, Arnolfini’s Archivist and Projects and Events Producer, with Professor Heike Roms, in which they discuss Ian Breakwell’s work, his importance in the UK art scene, and his relationship to Bristol.

Heike Roms is Professor in Theatre and Performance at the University of Exeter.

Her research is interested in the history and historiography of 1960s and 1970s performance art, especially in the context of the UK, and she has published widely on the archiving and documentation of performance, performance art education, children as performers in avant-garde art and on performance as a form of knowledge formation. Her publications include: Thinking Through Theatre and Performance (co-edited with Maaike Bleeker, Adrian Kear and Joe Kelleher, 2019), Silent Explosion (2015), and Contesting Performance – Global Sites of Research (co-edited with Jon McKenzie and C.J.W.-L. Wee, 2010). She is currently working on a book with the working title When Yoko Ono Did Not Come to Wales: Locating the Early History of Performance Art.

Click here to download an interview with Ian Breakwell by Clive Adams from Arnolfini Review Jan/Feb 1977.


Ian Breakwell: Exhibition Slideshow

All images by Lisa Whiting Photography for Arnolfini 2021.