I have been captivated by Jade Oakley’s work since 2009, when on a weekend wandering round Paddington I was lucky enough to discover her solo exhibition; Estuary, at Australian Galleries on Glenmore Road. The collection of elaborate and magical mobiles, made from stainless steel and paper were inspired by the life and colour of an estuary and had a lasting effect on me.
Since then, Jade’s profile has continued to rocket, with successful Australian Galleries group and solo exhibitions and high profile commissions; the most recent being the incredible Sky Garden, in the Atrium of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. Jade was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule and talk to me about her work.
Dawn: After achieving top of State in Visual Arts at high school, you went on to gain a first class Fine Arts Honours degree in sculpture. How did your love of sculpture, and more recently mobiles come about and was your love of art nurtured from an early stage? Have you found your favoured medium in mobiles, or do you enjoy the change that your other artwork such as painting brings?
Jade: I was very lucky to be brought up in a very creative environment. My mother is an artist as well as an art teacher and my father is a mechanical engineer. My art practice is very much the product of my parents talents. Since birth my twin sister and I have been surrounded by Dad’s inventions, which included a mechanical rocking cradle, a succession of billy carts complete with full suspension, cubby houses, flying foxes and any number of inventions that swung and turned to keep us entertained. Maybe this is where my lifelong fascination with movement originates from. My mother instilled in me a love of art, and her teaching skills were always tuned to bring out the best in me. Ours was a creative childhood, and I was always making, exploring and playing in the bush.
I feel that I have found my medium in mobiles. Even before I realised I was doing it I was making mobiles, as my early installations were also suspended artworks that moved in response to their environment. I have toyed with changing the materials that I make my mobiles from, but keep returning to paper and stainless steel wire – I feel that paper and wire are my language. I will go back to painting in the future, but perhaps more as a support or starting point for my mobiles.
Dawn: The mobiles have an ethereal quality. You say “each element is pushed to the point where it is most unstable, and also most beautiful” Are the works as delicate as they look and how on earth do you transport them?
Jade: My mobiles have a delicate balance, and are made from paper, but they are not as delicate as they appear. The stainless steel is quite tough and springy, and does not easily bend out of shape, and the paper has been treated with polyurethane resin so that it is tough and even water resistant. The mobiles transport really well, as nearly all of them pack flat – they can be simply lowered onto a flat surface, wrapped and at the other end picked up from the hanging point. Being light weight they are also low cost to transport. I recently sent 7 mobiles to Waterhouse and Dodd Contemporary Gallery in New York and they all arrived unharmed and sold at art fairs in Miami.
Dawn: High profile clients have commissioned your work including Otto Ristorante and Quay Restaurant, as well as Crown Casino and Galaxy Casino, Macau. Your most recent and largest commission was Sky Garden for the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital. This spectacular work is not only an amazing piece of art but an engineering feat that you credit as a team effort. Can you talk about how this project differed from your other work due to its scale and the collaboration with Matt Crawford from Crawford’s Casting.
Jade: Making “SkyGarden” for the Royal Children’s Hospital was an incredible experience for me. It was a really steep learning curve, as the project was on such a huge scale, and I was using materials and fittings that I had not used before. There were 5 mobiles, each 9m diameter, 4m high and more than 100kg each. The structure was made from stainless steel pipe with stainless steel fittings and the ‘elements’ were made from perforated, laser cut, powdercoated, spray coated aluminium. I certainly needed help to make these mobiles, so I called on Matt Crawford from Crawfords Casting. Matt has worked with me on all my large mobiles. He not only helped me with the physical work involved in building and balancing such large mobiles, but also helped me with planning, ordering materials and thinking through all the complexities of the project. Matt even installed the mobiles in the Royal Children’s Hospital. I was also helped by my Dad, who was fantastic and patient at working on the many calculations involved as well as talking through some of the engineering issues we came across. The team also included an engineer, industrial designer and lighting designer.
“SkyGarden” was managed by Merran Morrison and Rebecca Townsend of Artscape. Merran is an art consultant, who helped me to secure the commission, and oversaw the project, from liaising with the client and architects to managing the budget. It was essential for me to have the support of Artscape as they allowed me to concentrate on making the work itself, rather than worrying about ‘politics’ or negotiations.
I have enjoyed the challenge of working on a large scale and hope to make more public artworks in the future. However, I adore the immediacy of making small works with my own hands, alone in my studio. It is so rewarding to know that something that I have made will become an object of enjoyment and contemplation for other people.
Dawn:You are represented by Australian Galleries, whose renowned artist’s work can be seen in Victoria and NSW. The most recent exhibition; Uplands, was another huge success and Australian Galleries have some permanent Jade Oakley pieces available. Can we expect to see any further exhibitions of your work soon in either Melbourne or Sydney?
Jade: I’ve just had a baby, so I will not be working this year, however, I will certainly be working towards a new exhibition next year. I am toying with using new materials, perhaps integrating lighting into the mobiles, or maybe some mechanised movement. I think my next exhibition with Australian Galleries will be in Melbourne some time next year. At least I have plenty of time to consider the next step.
Dawn: Thank you so much Jade for talking to me and I look forward to your next Melbourne exhibition!
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Special thanks to Jade Oakley and Australian Galleries for permission to reproduce images.
Leading image on front page:
Ember I commission for the Galaxy Resort & Casino, Macau, 2011. Date: 2011. Dimensions: 200 x 100cm. Location: Festiva Restaurant – Galaxy Resort & Casino, Cotai City, Macau. Photograph by: Anthony Pearse. Image reproduced Courtesy of Jade Oakley