In the Studio with Oakey
In search of recalibration and reconnection to nature, ex-cricketer turned artist and arts worker Oakey found herself on an amazing adventure that also ended up providing the subject matter for her upcoming exhibition: Deep Rest.
Artist Oakey at the entrance to her Kent Town studio. Photo: Jack Fenby / InReview
For many people, including Oakey, the past year has been categorised by burnout. As a result, the artist and arts worker felt an overwhelming urge to be cradled in the comfort of nature.
“It got to the point where I just needed to stop,” she says.
“I just got on my motorbike, and I could feel the city almost peeling off me.
“I imagined myself covered in moss – I just wanted to crawl into the ground and kind of get healed. I just wanted to immerse myself in the bush, have a new adventure, get some confidence back.”
In October 2023, Oakey travelled from Adelaide to Yamba in New South Wales to take part in an eight-day escape in nature. Four of these days and nights were spent alone in the bush, with only water and sleeping gear. It was, essentially, ongoing meditation and silence.
“After probably two days, I felt that I’d unplugged from society and the city, and I plugged into the rhythm of nature, and I just didn’t feel alone. It was amazing.”
Oakey found respite and peace on this journey. She also found the essence of her upcoming Adelaide Fringe show Deep Rest, an exhibition that centres around her experience alone in the bush, where she paced a circle with a five-metre diameter for the days she was alone.
“As an artist I feel kind of responsible to share if I’m struggling or how I’m feeling, so people can relate,” she says.
“There’s a lot that came up as I walked around the circle, and I’ll be doing a walking piece as a video, as a performance, as part of the show.”
Deep Rest will show at Hahndorf Academy, an opportunity which Oakey was awarded for her site-specific work Reverence, shown at the 2022 Heysen Sculpture Biennial at Carrick Hill.
A work-in-progress for Oakey’s upcoming exhibition. Photo: Jack Fenby
In Oakey’s Kent Town studio sits the exhibition in progress: the early stages of a sculpture of a woman curled up on the ground, sticks lent against the wall, and paper bark across the surfaces.
“I guess what happens is I try to keep a tidy studio and then I end up bringing half the forest in!”
This return to nature, and the presence of it in her work space, is a call back to Oakey’s childhood in the English woodlands: “Like any child, I was just living in the woods pretty well, with my dog.”
These formative experiences of being immersed in the natural world led to a fascination with nature all over the world.
“Since then, I’ve done a lot of travel, like to the Amazon Rainforest and just the array of natural environments, and that’s where I feel my best and create at my best,” she explains.
The artist’s studio reflects her interest in nature and 3D work. Photo: Jack Fenby
Oakey’s work speaks to and explores the human relationship with the rest of the living world, and how our identity can be derived from this relationship.
“A lot of my work has been about healing and it’s about connection.
“It’s just this fascination with the interconnectedness of all things, hidden energies, health: anything from quantum physics and string theory to plant medicines.”
More work-in-progress. Photo: Jack Fenby
While the subject of Oakey’s art is broad and all-encompassing, throughout her career she has been mainly drawn to 3D work due to its tactile nature.
“I like to use my hands,” she says.
“For many years I was a cricketer – a state and national cricketer. That’s actually why I went to art school; when I retired, and I didn’t have anything to do with my hands. It had been my life for so many years, and I was just drawn straightaway to sculpture and ceramics.”
Blending materials has become a signature of Oakey’s work, in which she uses everything from wool to sound and light installations, to concrete, glass and clay.
The throughline of her practice is to have something that’s grounding and something that’s ethereal speaking to each other in every piece.
“The grounding will usually be metal or wood, and then the ethereal might include using something like light. So, there’s that thought from the earth to the sky, and everything in between.”
Oakey likes to use her hands and blend materials. Photo: Jack Fenby
As an emerging artist, Oakey has had a busy few years expanding her craft: she was one of ACE’s Studio Program artists in 2021, and the recipient of the Helpmann Academy and Hill Smith Art Advisory Gallery Assistant Mentorship in 2023. In between, she secured a Guildhouse Catapult mentorship that saw her mentored by experienced artist and Gray Street Workshop co-founder Catherine Truman – an experience she describes as “bloody brilliant”.
“We actually first met at the Nature Festival, and we had a conversation about acorns and glow-in-the-dark powers, and since it’s been so wonderful,” Oakey says.
“I’m so grateful for the experience. We go out to dinner now and we’ve got this ongoing friendship.
“Catherine will be doing a conversation with me through the [Deep Rest] exhibition as well. It’s really, really special.”
Oakey’s exhibition Deep Rest will be presented at the Hahndorf Academy from February 16 until March 17 as part of the Adelaide Fringe. The in-conversation event with Catherine Truman will take place on February 18, while the performance (a four-hour walking meditation within the gallery space) will be on March 3 (details here).
In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here. You can also find out more about the Catapult mentorship program here.