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Robert Carlton Breer was an experimental filmmaker, painter, and sculptor. He was born in Detroit on September 30, 1926 and died it Tucson on August 13, 2011.
"A founding member of the American avant-garde," Breer was most well known for his films, which combine abstract and representational painting, hand-drawn rotoscoping, original 16mm and 8mm film footage, photographs, and other materials. His aesthetic philosophy and technique were influenced by an earlier generation of abstract filmmakers that included Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Walter Ruttmann, and Fernand Léger, whose work he discovered while living in Europe. Breer was also influenced by the concept of Neo-plasticism as described by Piet Mondrian and Vasarely.
After experimenting with cartoon animation as a child, he started making his first abstract experimental films while living in Paris from 1949 to 1959, a period during which he also showed paintings and kinetic sculptures at galleries such as the renowned Galerie Denise René.
Breer explained some of the reasons behind his move from painting to filmmaking in a 1976 interview:
“This was 1950 or '51... I was having trouble with a concept, a very rigid notion about painting that I was interested in, that I was involved with, and that was the school of Mondrian. [...] The notion that everything had to be reduced to the bare minimum, put in its place and kept there. It seemed to me overly rigid since I could, at least once a week, arrive at a new 'absolute.' I had a feeling there was something there that suggested change as being a kind of absolute. So that's how I got into film.”
—Robert Breer, Transcription of 'Screening Room with Robert Breer (1976)'
Breer also taught at Cooper Union in New York from 1971 to 2001.
On August 13, 2011, fellow experimental filmmaker Pip Chodorov announced on the Frameworks Experimental Film Listserv that Breer had died on or around August 12, 2011. There has not been an official public confirmation of Breer's death.
Scholarly publications on Breer's work and interviews with the artist can be found in Robert Breer, A Critical Cinema 2: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers by Scott MacDonald, An Introduction to the American Underground Film by Sheldon Renan, Animation in the Cinema by Ralph Stephenson, and Film Culture magazine.
Breer won the 1987 Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artists' Award, presented by the prestigious American Film Institute.
His film "Eyewash" was included in Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film 1947-1986.