Inside the Artist Studio with Kate Breakey

While photographers engage with new technologies and new means of presentation, many artists working today still incorporate historical techniques in their work. Our current show Today is History brings together three artists who work with 19th / 20th c. processes to talk about present day concerns.

Kate Breakey (B. 1957 Adelaide, South Australia) is best known for her large-scale photographic work with birds and flowers that she painstakingly brings back to life with colored pencils. These pieces can be seen in two monographs, Small Deaths (2001) and Flowers/Birds (2003).

A few years ago, she became interested in the science of gold, especially astrophysics and this was the beginning her new series, Golden Stardust. Kate creates Orotones (prints made on glass and backed with 23k gold leaf) of small objects that command our attention, using an early technique to comment on the beauty, fragility and simplicity of her daily surroundings.

Here is a glimpse into her studio and working process:

Kate is photographing in her studio
Kate is photographing in her studio

Most photographers have seen Orotones – first made in the early 20th century by, amongst others, Arthur Pillsbury and Edward Curtis. Curtis developed this technique because he wanted his photographs to have more depth and they certainly do, they glow. I was struck by the beauty, brightness and the depth created by the light bouncing off the gold. So a few years ago I decided to do a modern version of the Orotone. I had an image printed digitally on UV ‘Art glass’ and I applied gold-leaf to the back of it. I’ve since make over 200 pieces.”

Kate is rolling out goldleaf in her studio
Kate is rolling out gold leaf in her studio

The images I select are from many places, times and even images from past bodies of work. I shoot all the time, wherever I go, often without anything in mind except to document my life and my observations. Because I get so busy with my large and often labor intensive hand-colored work, I have had to ‘file’ most of my negatives and so I had forgotten about many of these images that I’m just now rediscovering. It’s been very satisfying to give older images a new life. This work is quite eclectic because the selection includes, classical still life, landscapes, nudes, as well as all my various biological series (animals and flowers), but combined they make for a visual diary of a lifetime of ‘looking’. The gold leaf, unifies it all, makes each image ’precious’ and preserves the memory of the occasion of making the original image. Memories that now glow and shine after being for so long forgotten.” Kate Breakey


Kate Breakey’s Golden Stardust photographs are currently on view in the gallery through December 31. You can see more of Kate Breakey’s work on our website.