Skip to Content

Painted Light

Eurasian Blackbird by Kate Breakey
Eurasian Blackbird by Kate Breakey, 2002

AUGUST 26, 2010 - FEBRUARY 4, 2011

Painted Light celebrates Kate Breakey’s second monograph in the Wittliff’s Southwestern & Mexican Photography Book Series, published October 2010 by the University of Texas Press. Her first book, Small Deaths, debuted in 2001 and features an introductory essay by Coleman, titled “Animal Longings.” In it Coleman writes, “Breakey’s creative process… constitutes a form of iconification, reminiscent in its patient, elaborate handwork and deep lustrous hues of the making of Greek Orthodox ikons and illuminated manuscripts.”

Arranged by Carla Ellard, Wittliff Collections photography curator, and featuring over 130 selections from nine suites of photographs—Cactus, Flowers, Laws of Physics, Loose Ends, Memories and Dreams, Principles of Mathematics, Remains, Small Deaths, and Still Life—this new show encompasses a quarter-century of prolific image-making and reveals the wide range of the artist’s creative explorations. Breakey develops her photographs in the darkroom as silver gelatin prints averaging 32 inches square in size, which she then meticulously colors by hand with many layers of oil paints and pencils.

Breakey wrote the autobiographical text for Painted Light, and she says this of her work:

“I begin with a silver photographic image, a kind of evidence. Then I paint on this in many transparent layers of oil paint and pencil. If I am lucky, the media combine and become enmeshed, a curious union of what was real with my own exaggerations and embellishments, so I can show how beautiful it all is—the light, the form, the texture, and color—because I am a sensualist, and this is my deepest pleasure, my lovely addiction.”

Throughout the book, Breakey offers personal accounts of “the things that matter most” to her life as an artist and traces her influences, among them her fascination with classical European painting, her close connection to the world of science, and her heartfelt love of the natural world, which began during her childhood in rural Australia. These texts give considerable insight into Breakey’s beautiful images, creative process, and transformative journey “to distill observations into a visual language in which they can be contemplated”—the motive that inspires all of her work.

A native of South Australia who has also lived and worked in Austin, Texas, Kate Breakey now resides and photographs in the Sonora desert outside Tucson. In 2004, she received the Photographer of the Year Award from the Houston Center for Photography. Since 1980, her images have appeared in more than 70 one-person exhibitions and more than 50 group exhibitions in Australia, China, France, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition to the Wittliff Collections, many other public institutions hold Breakey’s work, including the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Her website is

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO of the Painted Light exhibition talk at the Wittliff on November 6, 2010.