The evocative, intensely-coloured paintings of Claude Breeze are a testament to the artist’s association with social protest. Aesthetically, Breeze’s work is connected to German Expressionism, but he is also associated with the Pop Art phenomenon. Breeze remains an active member of the Canadian art scene, his oeuvre spanning many media including painting, sculpture and installation.
Born in British Columbia, Breeze was raised by his grandparents in Saskatoon. After studying with various members of the Regina Five at the University of Saskatchewan, Breeze returned to the West Coast in 1959 for further study at the Vancouver School of Art. A fundamental shift in Breeze’s practice occurred in the early 1960s, when his close friend Gary Lee Nova returned from an extended stay in England and shared with Breeze his observations of British Pop Art. From this point forward, Breeze would begin to incorporate Pop-like elements into his paintings, and is credited – along with Lee Nova – with creating the first expressions of Pop on the West Coast of Canada.
In the early 1960s, Breeze worked in the medical illustration department at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It was in a UBC student newspaper that Breeze saw a photograph of a 1935 lynching in the southern United States, reprinted in the student paper to gain support for the Civil Rights Movement. Breeze’s painting interpreting this image, Sunday Afternoon: From an Old American Photograph (1965) caused a sensation in the Canadian art world. Subsequent series would deal with the horrors of mediatized war (Control Center No. 6: Red Stripe, 1968) and the violence of sexuality (Lovers in a Landscape No. 13: The Murder, 1965).
Claude Breeze was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1974 and was presented with the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1978 in recognition of his contribution to Canadian art. The artist has had an extensive teaching career, holding positions at Simon Fraser University, the Banff Centre School of Fine Arts, the University of Calgary, and the Emily Carr School of Art. Breeze was the Artist-in-Residence from 1972-1975 at the University of Western Ontario, and still holds the title of Professor Emeritus at York University. Claude Breeze currently lives in Toronto with his wife Ardis.