Sky Garden

‘Sky Garden’ is a commission of 5 mobiles each 4m high x 9.5m wide for the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. The cross pieces and fittings are made from stainless steel, and the elements are perforated aluminium, which is laser cut, powder-coated and spray painted. This is by far my biggest and most high-profile commission.

The principal audience for the work is children. My inspiration for the winged creatures in the mobiles came from children playing in nature. They are drawn from photos I took of my niece leaping on the beach and babies swimming under water. I have used bright colours because children respond to colour, recognising anything brightly coloured as specially for them. Paint effects like splashes and drips, watercolour effects give the work a child-like quality.

There was an amazing moment when the first mobile was winched up into the atrium of the hospital. We did not know how the work would rise up, but its movement was graceful and elegant, and I was so excited I was dancing around below. I couldn’t believe it! My mobile looked and behaved exactly as I had hoped that it would.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the opening of the Royal Children’s Hospital in ‘the gracious presence of Her Majesty The Queen”! It was an amazing event and gave me a sense of being part of something really meaningful and important, and I am so proud of my contribution.

‘Sky Garden’ presented me with a raft of new challenges. I had been accustomed to the immediacy of making mobiles with my own hands, or at most making a maquette which I could then translate into a bigger mobile with the help of Matt Crawford of Crawford’s Casting. So to move from working in fine wire and printed paper to stainless steel pipe and powdercoated aluminium has involved considerable experimentation and risk. It was a big team effort.

The commission was secured and managed by art consultants, ArtsCape. Matt Crawford was my fabricator, handling the logistics and heavy lifting required to bring my delicate little maquettes to life as 9m wide sculptures. At the beginning of the project everyone told me it was “an engineering nightmare”. However, when I approached engineer Harry Partridge of Partridge Partners, the first thing he said was “I think it’s going to be beautiful”. With patience and skill Harry guided me along the line between the spectacular and the practical. The fittings for the smaller mobile clusters are sleek stainless steel canopy fittings for yachts. I could not find any equivalent fittings for the large cross pieces of the mobiles. My friend and industrial designer, Dom Van der Merwe designed beautiful large fittings for the cross pieces so that they fit seamlessly into the mobile. These fittings were made in China. I was unable to spray paint all the elements myself (though I did try!) so I had to call in the experts, Benedict Compton and Peter Lloyd Jones to paint them for me and I think they did a fantastic job. I also worked with a lighting designer, Donn Salisbury of Vision Design as well as the client, architects from Bates Smart who designed the hospital and engineers and project managers from Lend Lease. And when the project was about to go over budget, my dear Dad came along every day for a month to help out with labour, and helped me throughout the project with my maths! I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with such a wonderful team of talented people who have shared their expertise with me so generously and patiently.

Sky Garden 8 by Jade Oakley artwork image

art materials: 

  • perforated aluminium
  • spray paint
  • stainless steel pipes and fittings

art discipline: 

  • mobile

commissions: 

  • Sky Garden

Photograph by: 

Mike Baker

Date: 

2011

Dimensions: 

5 mobiles each 4 x 9.5m

Location: 

Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne VIC