"Kate Breakey: Ornithology" at Stephen L. Clark Gallery
Where late the sweet birds sang, where now resides the egg and eye
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Sept. 6, 2019
Sing a song of light and shadow, the complex melodies of particle and wave caught in chemicals upon a single page of paper. Or – never mind the paper, dear friend. How about the occasional square of finest silk instead?
Kate Breakey has taken so many photographs over the years – at least, the Australia-born artist has become renowned for her – photographs of dead things: delicate, wee creatures of feather or fur, killed by human or maybe what some would call divine machination, arranged just so in final stasis, the staged images embellished colorwise by pigments wielded with subtle hand. Now, in "Ornithology," Breakey turns her life-hungry lens to those that fly. Or, rather, to where the winged ones come from before flight and where they rest between dismissals of gravity: eggs and nests, nests and eggs, fixed and framed and faintly enhanced with pastels or thread, bringing a sense of origin and domesticity to the walls of Stephen L. Clark's elegant gallery on West Sixth.
We could rhapsodize about the artist's technique and its marvelous results – we could if we were more versed in the minutiae of the photographic process, anyway – for what Breakey's wrought is nothing short of light-ensnaring wizardry in service of bringing her series of nests and the dappled eggs of quails secondhand to viewers' eyes. But we can only stand enraptured in our mild ignorance, soaking in the sublime rendition of these human artifacts of nonhuman artifice, realizing that considering all these nests and eggs without their birds instills a welcome sense of aloneness, of serenity.
That whole thing of being far from the madding crowd, as limned in Thomas Gray's old "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" and subverted by that other Thomas, Hardy, in his famous novel ... the madding crowd, these days, often tends to reside inside our heads like a frenzy of diseased grackles, insinuated there mainly by the internet and its ceaseless flood of social noise and signal. How rewarding a calm it is to retreat to the silent beauty of "Ornithology" within the Clark Gallery on an Austin afternoon; how restorative a respite it is while the crazed world cackles and flaps and eggs itself on toward collapse outside.
“Kate Breakey: Ornithology”Stephen L. Clark Gallery, 1101 W. Sixth, 512/477-0828
Through Sept. 7