Growing up in Sydney, Breen had the quintessential 1950s Australian upbringing: his dad a builder and his mum a housewife. Breen says he enjoyed school - but didn’t do very well during his early years due to a preoccupation with painting.
As a teenager, Breen worked as an apprentice draftsman for a firm of steel fabricators. It was in this job he learnt the conventions of 2D drawing. Later, as he developed his painting style,he would skilfully learn to break these rules to create images that would seamlessly distort upon the canvas.
After his apprenticeship, Breen left to enrol in a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of NSW. His international career as an architect spanned 32 years. Breen painted continuously throughout his working life, squeezing it in during weekends.
It was the application of aesthetics and form creation, all the same things that interest me when I’m painting, that attracted me to architecture.
Breen, now in his 70s, has been painting in earnest since his semi-retirement in 2006. He has been a finalist in the Muswellbrook Art Prize and the Kilgour Prize but he is yet to make the shortlist of either the Wynn and Sulman prizes.
You have to roll with the punches, keep a level head, and don’t worry about egos,” he advises.
Breen is drawn to still life, interiors and urban exterior spaces. He draws on his skills as a draftsman and architect to create spaces from his imagination.
Breen paints while listening to classical music or jazz, often working on half a dozen paintings at a time.
I tend to work on several at once, he says. I will leave a particular painting when it presents a problem I can’t solve at the time and put it aside for later, which is why ultimately they all take so long to do.
Although there is something of Brett Whiteley in Breen’s choice of colour palette, he says that he is more drawn to Whiteley’s ability to distort perspectives. Other influences include Geoffrey Smart, Stanley Spencer and Arthur Boyd.
Like many artists, Breen says he is far too critical of his own paintings and can’t seem to ever stop working on them.
A painting is never really complete. Usually it’s the deadline that causes you to stop.