Thus Passes the Glory: At Etherton Gallery, Kate Breakey’s photography explores the tangle of unbearable beauty and unbearable sadness

click to enlarge “Two Protea.” Archival pigment print, hand colored with pencil and pastel, by Kate Breakey. 24 x24 in. - COURTESY PHOTO
Courtesy Photo
“Two Protea.” Archival pigment print, hand colored with pencil and pastel, by Kate Breakey. 24 x24 in.

Early this week a blood red moon hovered over Tucson—and over the much of the rest of the world.

It was a joy to see the colors change from faint orange to red in the darkened sky.

More than once, Kate Breakey, a longtime Tucson photographer, has captured the extraordinary hues of that red moon. And in my mind, I couldn’t help but call this heavenly beauty the Kate Breakey moon.

Coincidentally I had just seen Breakey’s gorgeous moon photos at Etherton Gallery.

In her show, Transience, she has knitted nine of her full moon photos together into one glorious piece, “Nine Lunar Eclipses.” The nine moons are lined up in three rows of three, placed on a black backdrop. Each one has a different color, capturing a distinct phase of an advancing eclipse: white, gray, orange and red.

Breakey is known for her splendid images of nature; her earliest works I can remember were her oversized pieces that were giving homages to tiny dead birds.

The current show, 57 pieces strong, is about all kinds of nature: birds for sure, but also trees, clouds, a grand cavalcade of flowers, one snake, a random ship-in-a-bottle, and, oh yes, another lovely moon, an Arizona special called “A Fingernail Moon Setting Over Safford.” And a charming white lace dress for a little girl.

The photos, mostly color, some others black and white, hint at the cycle of life and death. Pink flowers slump down from their vase in “Drooping Daises.” In another Arizona piece, “Tall Dead Pine Tree, White Mountain, Arizona,” the branches and trunk are stripped bare, silhouetted against a stormy sky. Elsewhere, a dead raven, all funereal black, is carefully laid to rest on a piece of white lace. Even the little child who wore the lace dress will someday die.

“Nothing lasts,” Breakey writes in a statement on the gallery wall.

“Stars eventually go out, the moon pulls away inch by inch…I make pictures of things in the natural world so that in the short time I’m here I can hold them close, marvel over each one—remember it as it is, commemorate… Unbearable beauty and unbearable sadness, everywhere, coming and going all the time, all tangled up.”

Breakey has reported that she is an admirer of Alfred Stieglitz, a famed photographer in the early 20th century, who developed Pictorialism. Stieglitz insisted that beauty stands above the real world. Instead of sharp, gritty streetscapes, for instance, he would soften figures and buildings to the point that his work often looked more like paintings than photos. The same can be said of Breakey, as she strives to make her flowers and snakes and trees beautiful.

Like a latter-day Pictorialist, Breakey experiments like mad. The gallery’s Daphne Srinivasan counts paints, pastels, colored pencils, and embroidery among the many materials she uses. Then there’s the handmade papers, glass and silk and, magically, the orotone that gives a golden luminosity to her art.

Kate Breakey: Transience

Through June 18

Etherton Gallery, 340 S. Convent Ave.

11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday

Free

520-624-7370; ethertongallery.com

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