Kate Oakley stands beside 'Mixolydian Blues'. Her 'Hot Fusion' exhibit is inspired by the energy of jazz ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Kate Oakley stands beside 'Mixolydian Blues'. Her 'Hot Fusion' exhibit is inspired by the energy of jazz ©Brett Delmage, 2013

“It's my old memory that got dusted off, of Roddy Ellias. Probably in the 70's. He was very intent on the stage,” says Kate Oakley.

We're standing in front of a painting. It's vibrant and full of energy, and filled to the edges with abstract movement in bright oranges. Surrounding us on all four walls of the Little Italy-neighbourhood gallery are more paintings, mostly in vibrant colours – and inspired by jazz.

Oakley didn't actually listen to music while creating the works in her current exhibit, Hot Fusion. But her experience as a jazz listener has been essential to creating them.

“Many of the paintings have a key associated with them. Or a mode,” says the Ottawa visual artist.

Or were inspired specifically by a jazz musician, as in Ellias Electric. Oakley walks us around the gallery, going from painting to painting. If your eyes were closed you could mistakenly think that she's enthusiastically describing musical compositions.

“This one is more in the key of G. .. More sombre than some of my others, but there's still energy to it."

“B-flat. On a mellow day when there's a rain on the window, but it's not a bad, grey day."

“'Chronic tonic in F-sharp.' This one is actually my favourite. This one's about a piano playing."

“This one is my favourite title. 'Fois gras in C major'. C major because it's not vibrant in terms of colour like the other ones are. It's kind of just there. Like C major. Solid. And present.”

While she's been a decades-long jazz listener, Oakley is also learning to play jazz, as a member of the Ottawa New Horizons Beginner Jazz Band.

“It's great fun. I'm terrible but I just absolutely love it. I'm on the drum kit, which is quite comical to watch,” she says, laughing.

She describes her personal connections to painting and playing percussion.

“In the process of moving the paint around the canvas... I'm big brushes, big pallet knives, things like that and I move things around. So that's the expression. Probably why I'm interested in percussion. Because I can't sit still.”

She hasn't been sitting still developing her artistic skills. She graduated from the Ottawa School of Art with a three-year Fine Arts Diploma last June. Since starting art studies in 2009 she has exhibited paintings and photography in more than 20 group and solo exhibitions. Along the way, she received the 2011 David and Nicole Henderson Scholarship Award, and the 2012 Lee Matasi Scholarship Award. She was nominated for the BMO First Arts Award in 2012.

We arrive at the final painting of her tour, a smaller piece in shades of white and desaturated yellow.

“'Early Morning Dorian'. Like the Dorian mode [laughing]. While I was waiting for the paint to dry on something else.”

“Waiting for the paint to dry” was a recurring theme as Oakley described her artistic compositions and process. It's an essential step in creating her multi-layered, textured acrylic paintings, which she also sometimes let 'speak to her' for weeks after painting the first layers, and before finishing them.

And underneath all those layers is her inspiration from “the energy of jazz music, where the movement of the artist-in-space fuses with visual shape, colour, and texture.”

Jazz fans know it's a great foundation.

    – Brett Delmage

Kate Oakley - Hot Fusion
Final week!
Thursday, March 21, 2 - 5 p.m.
Friday, March 22, 2 – 8 p.m.
Saturday March 23, 2 - 5 p.m.
Sunday March 23, 2 - 5 p.m.

Platform Gallery
51B Young Street at Railway Street [map]
Two minutes walk west from Preston Street on Young Street; cross over the O-Train tracks on the pedestrian bridge. The Platform Gallery is on your right.

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