Avant Garde Animator, Robert Breer, died on August 11 at 84 in his home in Tuscon. A painter, filmmaker and animator, Breer worked with such luminaries as Claes Oldenburg and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and developed an intensely formalist aesthetic, focusing on the minutest detail of the moving image. Working mostly with hand drawn images on
4 x 6 index cards, Breer invented his own style of animation in concert with film scratchers, flicker films, and soviet montage artists.
Robert Breer’s father Carl was an engineer, notable as the designer of the Chrysler Airflow, who in his spare time invented such ahead-of-their-time devices as a homemade 3-D camera he used to photograph family vacations. In his father’s footsteps, Robert went to Stanford for an engineering degree but was soon turned to art, and eventually abstract painting. While living in Paris in the 1950’s, Breer was inspired by modernist French painters like Marcel Duchamp, and became fascinated with injecting movement into his abstract painting. Experimenting with flipbooks, based on the paintings he was producing, Breer started to play with the moving image. Soon, he was animating his flipcard drawings on a Bolex 16mm camera. By the time he returned to the US in the late 50’s, he found a scene with whom he had already been unwittingly in dialogue. Avant garde film was thriving with such makers as Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Peter Kubelka and Marie Menken, and Robert Breer was able to insert himself relatively seamlessly into the scene.
Breer continued experimenting and playing with the medium, leading the way for animators like Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, and for the slew of contemporary video animators (Steve Reinke, Jim Trainor, Barry Doupé, Daniel Barrow, Martha Colburn, paper rad, Takeshi Murata, Bruce Bickford, Joanna Priestly, Jessie Mott, Bill Plympton, Paul Bush, and even more literally, for his daughter, filmmaker/animator Emily Breer) active today. For the last 30 years, Robert Breer has taught at The Cooper Union in New York.
Robert Breer’s work was most recently shown as a part of the Walker’s 1964 exhibition, in Stockhausen’s Originale: Doubletakes. Before that, Robert Breer visited the Walker in 2000 for Breer on Breer (a short series of his films) and in 1980 for a series called Filmmakers Filming in which he taught an animation workshop. The film produced in that workshop is now safe in the Walker Archives. The Walker salutes Robert Breer’s remarkable life and career. Most recently Robert Breer’s Rug was shown in A Shot in the Dark and has since been added to the permanent collection.