Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

26th January 2015

CHARLES OAKLEY 1925 - 2008

A memorial exhibition for Charles Oakley who died in 2008  will be on show at the Fine Art Society New Bond Street from 4th – 19th February.

Charles was one of my favourite artists and a good friend – shy, modest, reliable and unquestionably loyal. He had three superb solo exhibitions at Castlegate House which all sold out as well as works in mixed exhibitions. People came from Holland, Northern Ireland, the USA and all over the UK to see and buy.   There was always a scrum at his openings.

We first met in 1990 at his home in Brampton. He was well established,well respected and recognised. He also had a prestigious London Gallery in Mayfair and I didn’t think I stood a chance of an exhibition. There was nothing provincial about Charles. He and his wife Anne were flying off to Chicago the day after my visit where he had three commissions from a wealthy business man who had sent BA First Class return tickets for them. When they got back I was invited for lunch and I left with some treasures in the boot of the car and a promise of a solo show at the gallery.

 A visit to their home on Hadrians Wall was always a treat. His studio was a place where you could spend a whole week just looking. There were model boats, aeroplanes, glass domes protecting strange objects and a sea chest with rope handles bearing his grandfather’s initials GCMO with a fully rigged sailing ship painted on the lid.

Charles was a meticulous investigative artist and craftsman.  Every piece of work had a hidden twist, a witty reference, a puzzle to be solved. Nothing was there by accident. He loved mysteries, he loved great artists - Vermeer, Stubbs, Magritte, Balthus, Winslow Homer. He constructed paintings and little boxes referencing their work. He loved great ambition and great failures - for example Shackleton, Mallory and Irving’s Everest attempt and the tragic figure of Roger Casement. His range and curiosity knew no bounds.

His three dimensional boxes are mini worlds, stage sets, with exquisite models of a boat, an ice axe or perhaps a chair setting off the foreground. He was a master of trompe l’oeuil – it is difficult to tell what is real and what is painted. How often have I stretched out a finger to make sure?

Charles was head lecturer in Fine Art at Newcastle Poly for ten years until his retirement in 1984. On my journeys back from board meetings in Newcastle, I would stop off for a drink and get him up to speed with the latest on the Baltic development, the launch of The Angel of the North, the progress of the building of the Music Centre, the Blinking Bridge over the Tyne. We talked about the great artists and what he was working on at the time. He posed questions but no answers which meant more research and a visit to the reference library for me in pre-google days. He never explained his paintings, he would give a clue and the rest was for the viewer, the purchaser, the owner, the gallery to find more. It was a game he was playing. There was huge satisfaction when you cracked it.

There is a beautiful catalogue – one to keep.

Fine Art Society  148 New Bond Street London W1S 2JT   0207 629 5116


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