Press Room Details

Natural attraction
Denese Oates

14 December 2010
Vanessa Keys

The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie

"Denese Oates is the queen of corrosion. She likes her iron rusty and her copper weathered with a watery verdigris patina, so we had this is common straight away. It is mesmerising to see this softly spoken lady don a welding mask, fire up her blowtorch and contentedly weld tiny bits of metal together. Her bold and intricate sculptures pay homage to nature in the most reverent way" - Jamie Durie

In the heart of Denese Oates' mossy green garden, a gentle giant rises majestically from the dampened soil. From far away, the creature's silvery green tail exudes a translucency that casts an eerie resemblence to fish scales. On closer inspection, it's actually a mass of intertwined copper wires intricately manipulated to form a shimmering sheaf. 

It's easy to imagine that this creature simply fell from the sky but, in fact, it was built in this very garden, lovingly moulded and soldered by Denese's own hands."I've always had a fascination with nature on a minute scale," says Denese, clutching a cup of tea in the crisp Sydney sunshine. "The shadowy, sinuous shapes of marine life, bare branches waving wildly in the winter wind, the intricate vascular system of plants."

An amble through Denese's garden, which fringes her sprawling house and studio, leads to an array of intriguing discoveries: an oversized skeletal bud that looks like it has dropped from a mythical vine; a swirling hurly-burly steel sculpture inspired by a David Attenborough documentary  and an amber-hued human silhouette with womanly curves.

The earthiness of Denese's creations is owed to the materials she uses and the way her hands mould them. As for using such an unlikely material such as metal to carve such delicately woven pieces? "Actually, the copper naturally lends itself to this process," she says. "It often comes in coils or twines and has the most gorgeous organic, sinuous shapes before I even lay a finger on it. I just help it along a little."

Raised on a farm in Orange, in central western New South Wales, Denese spent her childhood fossicking among lots of wonderful, rusty machinery. "Exploring and being surrounded by sheds, dirt and junk was life ... and a great way to grow up," she says. Today, the one-time art teacher has her artworks in celebrated Australian collections such as the Parliament House Art Collection in Canberra, and others like the University of Western Sydney, where her Loch Ness monster-like creation braves the elements.

The greenish patina or verdigris formed on Denese's copper sculptures as they suffer the effects of rain, hail and shine adds an additional living organism to the already animated creatures. "I also love working with COR-TEN steel," says Denese. "Mild steel rusts away to nothing, whereas COR-TEN slowly blooms a beautiful rust colour that protects it and stays like that forever. I want my pieces to be able to withstand time." And while her designs begin as simple sketches, it seems her process of creation breathes life into them. "Sculptures are like creatures; no matter my initial intentions, they always end up taking on lives of their own."

Denese's solo show 'A Walk in the Woods' is showing from January 19 - February 19 at Stella Downer Fine Art in Sydney (

Denese Oates says:

I'm inspired by...


Nature In all its forms, especially the bare branches of winter trees and the intricate veins of plants and leaves.


Travel Visiting the galleries in New York is immediately restorative and I absolutely adore the colour and energy of Barcelona. 


Everyday encounters A routine trip to the ophthalmologist a couple of years ago was what led to my fascination with veins and the human vascular system.

"Earthiness comes from the materials. I stay true to the materials and keep them as unadorned as possible. The oxidisation of COR-TEN steel has an elegance of its own"


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