This life: Jo Oakley

The painter and printmaker escapes every weekend to the seaside, finding inspiration for her work in a beach hut filled with colour and vintage finds

Jo sets off to Whitstable’s high street to stock up on coffee and pasties

Jo sets off to Whitstable’s high street to stock up on coffee and pasties

Beach huts are a much-loved part of the British seaside, as traditional as fish and chips on the pier or deckchairs on the sand. You’ll find them dotted along Scottish shores at the likes of Elie and Coldingham Bay, but they’re particularly popular in the English resorts of Bournemouth, Brighton and the south coast. So sought-after are they, in fact, that some have been known to change hands for tens of thousands of pounds.

Jo Oakley, a painter and printmaker, has owned her beach hut in Whitstable for twenty years and nothing would persuade her part with it. “I bought it for £250 when my daughters Hannah and Daisy were very young. As soon as they were home from school on a Friday, we’d jump in the car and head out of the city to the seaside. When it was warm, we’d all bed down on the deck and star-watch until we fell asleep. It made every weekend special – in fact, it still does.”

The weathered tongue-and-groove is immediately evocative of the seaside. A leftover tin of pink paint came in handy for the interior

The weathered tongue-and-groove is immediately evocative of the seaside. A leftover tin of pink paint came in handy for the interior

Over the years Jo has seen Whitstable evolve from a forgotten backwater fishing port on the Thames estuary into a thriving weekend destination thronged with visitors during the summer months. “It has so much to offer, but it’s on a small, simple scale – apart from the beach, which is endless,” she says. “Old-timers might complain that it has changed, but I think most of those changes – such as being able to get a great cup of coffee in the morning – have been for the better.

Back home in her studio, memories of the weekend resurface in Jo’s paintings. Here, her Aunt Peg’s table, a fixture of the beach hut, takes centre stage in a new composition

Back home in her studio, memories of the weekend resurface in Jo’s paintings. Here, her Aunt Peg’s table, a fixture of the beach hut, takes centre stage in a new composition

DETAILS

Words Amanda Harling
Photography Andreas von Einsiedel