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

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