Mastering Multitudes

Exploring the Artistry of Breon O'Casey

In our upcoming Cornish Art & Fine Art auction on April 11th, we're excited to present a varied assortment of artwork and jewellery by the multitalented artist Breon O'Casey. 

Breon O’Casey can be defined as a skilled painter, printmaker, weaver, jewellery-maker and sculptor. O'Casey stands out as a notable artist within the St Ives art scene of the 1960s who committed himself to mastering many skills and disciplines throughout his life. 

O'Casey epitomizes versatility, seamlessly blending art and craft into a unified body of work. What led the artist to commit himself to such a wide array of artistic pursuits? His pathway into the art world can provide some insight into his artistic directions and unique career. 


Breon O'Casey in his painting studio, photograph provided by Bob Berry


Breon was born in London in 1928 to the playwright Sean O’Casey and actress Eileen O’Casey. The family relocated to Totnes, Devon to provide Breon with a progressive education at the Dartington Hall school. The school embodied the ideology of a utopian community which combined physical activities and skills, considering them equally important to academic skills. This has been described by O’Casey as crucial to his development. 

It was usual to find paintings by Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson on the walls, along with a reclining figure by Henry Moore in the gardens. Thriving in this environment, Breon began crafting jewellery under the guidance of Naum Slutzky, a Weimar Bauhaus refugee, in the metalwork studio.  

Breon attended art school before ultimately determining that St Ives was his ideal destination to pursue his artist endeavours; “watching television, sometime in the late fifties, I saw a film about Alfred Wallis, a primitive painter who had lived at St Ives in Cornwall. The film showed St Ives and the studios of some of the artists living there. I realised it was the place for me”. 


Breon O'Casey in his sculpture studio, photograph provided by Bob Berry


Initially, he found work as an assistant, first with the sculptor Denis Mitchell and then with Barbara Hepworth. O'Casey noted that this provided him with a rich artistic education in sculpture, although he acknowledged, "While on duty you thought Mitchell or Hepworth thoughts." Nonetheless, O'Casey remained determined to pursue his own artistic path further. During this period, O'Casey acquired the invaluable skill of blending "the practical world of the marketplace with the ideal world of the artist," undoubtedly contributing to his success and desirability in the contemporary art scene. 

Painting remained O'Casey's primary artistic focus throughout his life, unlike other disciplines that he pursued intermittently, whenever they aligned with his interests. A noticeable theme to his paintings is three contrasted shapes placed in a parallel row. He described his intrigue in pattern “Two is a pair, but three is magic – it’s shorthand for infinity”. You can observe this recurring motif in Pink Dots, 2010, which is included in our auction. 


Pink Dots, 2010, Oil on board


Initially, Breon's motivation for creating jewellery was to supplement his income and support his career in art. He gained recognition as a jeweller in his own right as well as a painter. As the demand for jewellery grew, O'Casey joined in a working partnership with Bryan Illsley. It was his animal brooches which eventually led him into discovering sculpture for himself. 

Silver bird brooch with gold eye

Although O'Casey's exploration into sculpture came later in life, the outcomes are just as revered as his paintings or jewellery. Breon first modelled the forms in plaster and wax before they were solidified in bronze. Breon produced stylised human figures and streamlined animals and birds. We have a strikingly large and impressive Bird on a Tall Stand featured in the auction. 

Bird on a Tall Stand, 2007, Bronze

We are thrilled to feature such a large collection of Breon O’Casey artworks in our upcoming Cornish Art & Fine art Auction, which is taking place on Thursday 11 April.  


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