Ar tist in residence
Whether it’s the decorative details on the vintage ceramics she collects, or the view from the seafront, Jo Oakley is inspired by the things that surround her
A grown-up palette of muted pastel shades is the backdrop for artist Jo Oakley’s collections of vintage ceramics
Objects from the past have always appealed to painter and printmaker Jo Oakley, who maintains there is little in her home that was acquired brand new. ‘Apart from the cooker and the fridge, I think everything I own is pre-loved. Retro and vintage things are so fashionable these days, but that’s all I’ve ever been interested in.’ She points to a china jug that she bought for a few pence in a jumble sale when she was 10. It was the start of a lifetime of collecting 20th- century china and ceramics. And today, deco-style jugs and vases fill her home in Herne Bay, on the Kent coast. Massed on shelves and in cabinets or in smaller groups on canvas, as part of the atmospheric still lifes that she paints, Jo’s collection is as much a part of the decor as the colours that she’s chosen for the walls.
Two years ago, a yearning for more space prompted Jo to start looking for a larger home. At the time she was living in a compact coach house conversion in south east London. ‘My painting studio was basically a garden shed and my printing press was in the hall,’ she says. Jo was familiar with Herne Bay, having owned a beach hut in nearby Whitstable for 20 years, so she decided it was time to leave London and look for a permanent home near the sea. ‘I grew up in a house overlooking the Thames in Greenwich and I’ve always been happiest living near water of some description,’ she explains.
The house is arranged over three storeys with an attic studio in which to paint, while the printing press has a room of its own on the floor below. ‘The views from the house are of the garden and the playing fields beyond, but it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the High Street in one direction and the sea in the other. It’s perfect. I have wall space for my paintings and more than enough shelf room for my china.’ And when she needs a break from
painting, she heads out to browse the local junk shops or goes for a swim.
When it comes to adding items to her collection, Jo is influenced by memories rather than current trends or particular styles. ‘My maternal grandmother loved tweaking her home and was creative without being extravagant. As a young girl in the 1960s and 70s, I was fascinated by the ornaments she had and how she would change things around, altering the look all the time.’ Jo also recalls childhood walks with her grandfather. ‘He was very practical and could mend anything.’ She remembers him peering into skips, checking to see if there was anything worth salvaging. ‘If there was, I’d be lowered in to retrieve it. We had fun on those walks.’
While few pieces in her collection have any financial value, their varied shapes, colours and patterns play an important part in her work. ‘Sometimes I’ll be dusting the shelves and a detail on a plate – which I’ve not noticed before – prompts me to embark on a new painting. Pieces that I’m especially fond of reappear time and time again in my paintings.’
An enthusiastic supporter of local jumble sales and boot fairs, Jo is also a regular at the weekly auction at Edwards in Herne Bay. ‘I found some great pieces of furniture for the house there and although I don’t actually need much more, that won’t stop me looking. Home for me has always been a work in progress and I’ll change the look of a room on a whim.’ The kitchen is a case in point. Rather than poring over paint charts and samples, Jo selected the soft pink of the kitchen walls after being inspired by the rosy glow of the raw plaster when the kitchen was extended.
Along with the ceramics, Jo’s coastal surroundings feature strongly in her paintings. ‘The sea is now a part of daily life. On calm evenings, I might paddle the kayak around the pier to the pub for a quick sundowner, or I’ll go for a bike ride or a run over the headland before returning home to paint. The coastline and my home are my inspiration.’
TOP Jo at work in her studio, which is at the top of the house FACING PAGE In the living room, Jo’s colourful collection of vases and jugs, displayed on custom- made shelves, stands out against the calming backdrop of the blue-grey walls painted in Farrow & Ball’s ‘Inchyra Blue’
The French bedstead in the guest bedroom is upholstered in vintage ! oral fabric and was a local auction "nd. The colour on the walls, ‘Pleasant Violet’ by Valspar, was inspired by the !oral painting by Jo’s mother that sits on the cabinet
ABOVE LEFT A woven jacquard cushion depicting Picasso’s portrait of Dora Maar sits on a mid- century chair that Jo picked up in a local auction ABOVE RIGHT On the vintage bedside table in the guest room, a jug by Judith Rowe sits alongside one of Jo’s paintings FACING PAGE