July 27 2011
Laura Oakes’s highly unusual work – individual furniture, decorative lightboxes and Perspex panels, lampshades and cushions – lends itself perfectly to bespoke commissions. Clients usually hear about her by chancing on a gallery she has in Rye, East Sussex, where she lives, or by word of mouth – but Liberty in London has just taken a few of her pieces, confirming that she’s a rising star.
Her hallmark is intriguing, intricately multilayered surfaces featuring such things as photographs of galloping horses (reminiscent of Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge), old children’s book illustrations and anatomical and botanical drawings. Her palette is quirky and off-key: dusky pastels and sunset oranges are mixed, say, with bright geranium pinks.
“I’m attracted to nostalgic, narrative imagery,” says Oakes, who worked as an artist for five years before setting up her eponymous business in 2010. Her tables cost from £1,000 to £5,000, her bespoke lampshades from £1,000 and panels from £1,500. She calls her pieces “affordable art”.
Their complex, unpredictable layering of images looks painterly, visceral and hand-crafted, yet Oakes layers all her drawings, photos and found objects (first scanned on a computer) digitally. She dubs her technique “digital découpage” – a nod to the Victorian découpage craze (which saw screens and other objects plastered with cutout pictures).
Oakes plunders a practically limitless reservoir of images, which makes it easier to personalise her pieces. “I start commissions by researching my clients’ lives, their interests, where they holiday, how they live, what palette they like at home…” She asks them to send her “objects that are important to them – snaps, travel tickets, pressed flowers, theatre programmes, jewellery…” Images of these are then woven into her pieces.
She sometimes customises existing furniture, whose style partly determines how the piece eventually looks. As she puts it, “I often let the personality of the furniture lead the way.”
This mercurial approach is what distinguishes her work, ensuring that each piece is a one-off – and, ultimately, able to capture something of its owner’s personality.
First picture: desktop for a vintage desk. Second picture: giant floor cushion. Third picture: side cabinet.