Featured Artist: Ella Oakley NWA

Ella Oakley’s work will be on display as part of the Next Wave 2020 exhibition, 18 – 29 February at the RBSA Gallery.

Ella Oakley is currently studying for her Masters at BCU Birmingham School of Art and will show her work at the RBSA Next Wave 2020 exhibition in February. The exhibit Ex Vivo, (out of the living) features mixed media sculptures in plaster, textile, metal and acrylic which were intended to be viewed as individual works in a collective installation.

Ex Vivo, Ella Oakley

Ex Vivo – Birthed I and II, Ella Oakley

The artist examines the relationship between the maternal bond and separation, and metaphorically represents this connection in the form of hand-constructed woven or knitted textiles combined in plaster. These inspirations are emotive, exploring the turbulent relationship between motherhood, feminism and the nature of the human female body.

Ex Vivo… explores the unbreakable connection between mother and child. The uncontrollable textile foetal matter is constrained through the form and boundaries of the plaster. The two materials merge together, but neither engulfs the other. The plaster forms evolve from the scientific, rigid, dynamic pieces on the plinths to the natural irregular ovoid that is birthed onto the floor.

White box on plinth with textiles

Ex Vivo, Ella Oakley

Ella created some of the wool material pieces with her own mother, as knitting is a hobby they both share. She decided to amalgamate plaster with the textiles as it is a complete opposite to the warm, soft wool. The cuboid, flat sculptures situated on metal plinths, were made by a plaster cast process.

The process consisted of making a wooden box and laying the textile piece inside, then adding a ‘flick coat’ of plaster on top of the piece; slowly added more plaster until the cast was complete. These cuboid pieces bear some resemblance to ultrasound scans and are suggestive of the minimalist vocabulary of some work produced by Robert Morris, Donald Judd and Carl Andre.

Robert Morris, Untitled (1965)

Donald Judd, Untitled (1960)

Ella bridges the gap between this male orientated minimalism and the feminine maternal form with the physical contact and dripping surface of the ground level pieces. These pieces were made by layering up thick coats of plaster by hand, to engulf the wool and then finishing with a drip layer of plaster for the outer surface.

The work’s other vital element is the corporeal umbilical wool and fibres emerging and trailing from the plaster. The flesh-pink soft, tactile materials suggest vulnerability similarly to those used by Eva Hesse. Ella’s work uses this element to show the fragmentation of the maternal bond. The installation progresses from just above eye level to the ground; the inner textile forms become more complex and developed with this progression. The grey plastic acrylic underneath the two ground-floor level pieces protects the post-partum sculptures and separates them from the immediate harsh flooring. Ex vivo represents Ella’s relationship with her mother and how their relationship has changed and grown throughout her life.

Artwork on wall with long pieces touching the floor.

Eva Hess, No Title (1970)

By Ella Oakley

Instagram: @ellaoakleyyyart

Website : www.ellaoakleyart.com

See Ella’s work at Next Wave 2020

Ella’s work will be on display as part of the Next Wave 2020 exhibition, 18 – 29 February at the RBSA Gallery. Join Ella and the Next Wave artists and curators at the Opening Reception on 19 February, 6- 8pm or for a guided tour on Saturday 29 February, 2 – 4pm. Both events are free.


Next Wave 2020 is sponsored by Galliard & Apsley House Capital Partnership.

A special thanks to:

The John Feeney Charitable Trust, The Oakley Charitable Trust, The Grimmitt Trust and Didymus CIO for helping us fund the 2020 programme.

About RBSA

The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA) is an artist-led charity which supports artists and promotes engagement with the visual arts through a range of exhibitions, events and workshops.

The RBSA runs an exhibition venue – the RBSA Gallery – in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, a short walk from the city centre. The gallery is open 7 days a week and admission to all our exhibitions is free.

Find out how to reach the RBSA Gallery here.

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