TRIBUTE: JASON OAKLEY
VAI STAFF AND BOARD MEMBERS, PAST AND PRESENT, CELEBRATE JASON OAKLEY, EDITOR OF THE NEWS SHEET FOR ALMOST 20 YEARS, WHO PASSED AWAY ON FRIDAY 2 OCTOBER 2015. THE TRIBUTE BEGINS WITH A PIECE WRITTEN BY JASON’S BROTHER MARCUS;
A Mellifluous Oak
Analogue Data Bank
Soulful Seaside Sunshine
Bass In Your Face
Deconstruct and Decompress
Another Green World
I have put off writing this small tribute for so long. How is it possible to put into words the respect, love, gentle soul and intellect that was our friend Jason Oakley? How is it possible to put in writing the unutterable grief felt with Jason’s death? Jason worked with us for over 20 years. In that time he developed VAI’s publications, guided us through the creation and delivery of respected journals such as Printed Project, our Critical Writing Award with Dublin City Council, and was the heart and soul of the Visual Artists’ News Sheet. But Jason was much more than that. His unique sense of dedication, humour and professionalism provided us all with the inspiration to do even more.
The days following his death were some of the most difficult for us. A new reality hit us: Jason would no longer be there to avoid making tea; to introduce us to new music forms that even the most radical bearded hipster would envy; to debate the merits of regional work clothing; to ensure that the sudden interventions of humour were available to defuse moments of stress; to make sure that the voice of the writer would be heard in all of its glory. We know that we are not alone in our love and respect for Jason. The many tributes that we have received have meant so much to us and to Cora, Marcus and his parents. Harry had a tremendous dad that he can continue being proud of throughout his life. We hope to do a book of memories for him so that he will know Jason as we knew him … as our friend.
Noel Kelly, CEO, Visual Artists Ireland
I cant remember when I first met Jason. It was probably at some exhibition opening in the 90s, I don’t know, but he would leave enough of an impression to remember him the next time we met. He was just that perfect blend of friendly polite English man, appropriately quirky, mischievously humorous, impressively erudite and kind of spirit. Somehow he ended up here and we all had the great pleasure of getting to know him.
Knowing Jason led me to join the board of the Sculptors Society. I had known of his work for the organisation but when I joined the board, I grew to understand the role he played, how he and a few others had kept the lights on in dark days and how his life’s work was communicating to the members and the broader artistic community on behalf of the SSI/VAI. He was a consistent and persistent cultivator of ideas who gathered words to sate our curiosity. Jason never stopped working and never let the hard days become manifest in his mood.
On a bright sunny day just before Jason got married we climbed the Sugar Loaf. It was clear enough to see across the sea to Wales. In the frivolity of the moment we joked that he was leaving old England behind. But Jason was always his own man, himself, happy to be here and happy to be from there. I never thought I would be thinking of that occasion knowing that he is gone. It is hard to believe. But he had a great life, one worthy of celebration, so I will raise a glass and think of him, sporting some fine gentleman’s attire and laughing contagiously among his friends, numerous as they are.
Liam Sharkey, former Chair of the Board, Visual Artists Ireland
I knew Jason in two roles, that of tutor and colleague. In each of these roles he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge and passion for the art-world, both local and international, and also a tremendous understanding of the trends and movements in critical thinking. Bright and logical, his vision and strategic thinking saw the development of the publications department in Visual Artists Ireland over the 21 years he worked here. He was a gentle, calm, intelligent man who will be greatly missed by all his colleagues, perhaps most especially on dark, dismal January mornings when Jason’s humorous anecdotes made life a lot more bright and cheerful. Love to Cora and Harry, rest in peace Jason; how you lived your life deserves to be celebrated.
Bernadette Beecher, Office Manager, Visual Artists Ireland
Jason was the first person to greet me when I joined the VAI Board, upstairs in the Fruitmarket over 13 years ago. Friendly, approachable and open, always in good form, he could (and did) hold forth about almost any topic, in particular the subject of libel and slander in print media (an area in which he developed no small amount of expertise as editor of the VAI newsletter!).
More recently, when Jason and Cora bought their house not too far from my own home, we talked about how best to approach the necessary repairs. All the work was being done by Jason and his family and friends. Jason’s dad was very keen to come over from England to spend time at the hard graft. Jason needed little guidance from me and had lots of ideas and plans for his new home. It was all ahead of him, a lovely wife, young family, new house, lots to do, all ahead full speed.
I was shocked and saddened to hear news of his illness, only to see him back in the VAI offices two board meetings later, laughing and joking as if nothing had happened. He was never ill to me on my intermittent VAI visits. Therefore, the news of his passing seems unreal. We all thought and hoped that he had beaten the odds.
Jason was a self-effacing, quietly confident person; intelligent, witty and not shy of voicing his opinions on any topic. After meeting him you were left with the impression that things weren’t quite as bad as they seemed. A wry smile and witty side-swipe would leave you with the lingering impression that there was no problem that couldn’t be sorted. I passed by the offices yesterday and looked up at the windows, expecting to see him inside talking and laughing. That’s how I remember Jason. We are all made lesser by his absence.
Mel Reynolds, former VAI Board Member
Any time spent in Jason’s company left you feeling better about the world. He was so warm and welcoming, always interesting and interested, and he had a deliciously deadpan sense of humour. He was a brilliant writer and editor. He had an extraordinarily broad and deep knowledge of the art world, and of so much else besides.
My warmest sympathy to Jason’s family, especially his beloved Cora and Harry. And to his colleagues and friends in VAI; to have lost Valerie and Jason from such a tight-knit team seems terribly cruel.
Roger Bennet, former VAI Board Member
I’ve been trying to recall when I first met Jason and I honestly can’t remember. For as long as I have known VAI and previously the SSI, Jason has been around; his presence was so intrinsic to the fabric of these organisations. One of the first faces you’d see as you entered the VAI office, he was always welcoming and generous to a fault. With his deft knowledge of what VAN readers would respond to, he’s guided me through writing a number of texts and articles for VAN and I remember my overwhelming pride when he proclaimed he’d awarded me a “gold star” for one particular article, because Jason’s approval held currency. His wit and humour lightened many a stilted situation and his love and enthusiasm for his work was genuinely inspiring.
My heart breaks for the family Jason leaves behind. His son Harry and my daughter Ruby are at a similar age and I always enjoyed our sneaky chats about the madness that is parenting the under sixes.
His passing away has drawn deep emotional pain and anguish for everyone who knew him and his absence will be felt throughout the Irish visual arts world for a long time to come. Saying Jason will be missed is an understatement but this tribute, along with the others that have poured into the VAI office, comes from the places where his influence, intelligence and friendship were felt.
Linda Shevlin, Chair of the Board, Visual Artists Ireland
Jason worked at VAI for over 20 years. I sat beside him as both friend and colleague for 11 of those years. As publications manager his considerable knowledge of visual art permeated through the office and beyond. His years spent at VAI with his witty and easy going nature meant he effortlessly formed and nurtured hundreds of both professional and personal relationships with artists and others in the industry – many of whom would go on to become his friends.
Reading all the tributes that have poured in to the office and on social media it is particularly evident that Jason built up a vast network of people who truly respected and admired him as both an editor and writer, and many whose careers in the art world were influenced by him in some way.
As a colleague he was kind, enthusiastic, encouraging, funny and loveably bonkers.
Jason always lifted our spirits, even on the dreariest of days, with his witticisms, little anecdotes about crazy art-world goings on, by showing us funny things on YouTube or introducing us to madcap musical genres like ‘yacht rock’.
My only gripe in all the years, and that which I loved to slag him about, was that he never ever made the tea … even though he would always accept a cuppa.
I know I speak for all my colleagues when I say that we were more than friends, we were a little VAI family, and we will miss him so very much.
Niamh Looney, Communications Officer, Visual Artists Ireland