Mindful matchbox art helps Bundaberg’s Marlies Oakley process floods and COVID

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Mindful matchbox art helps Bundaberg’s Marlies Oakley process floods and COVID

A south-east Queensland artist has been looking for matchboxes – but the only fire she’s interested in lighting is a creative spark.

Sharks jumping into a water spout, penguins mingling with nuns and a space shuttle gliding over the Sydney Opera House show some of the stories in Marlies Oakley’s mind.

The German-born Bundaberg woman creates miniature stories inside matchboxes using a cut-and-paste collage technique, then joins the boxes together to create large voyeuristic works of art.

Individual stories in the matchboxes symbolize disconnection and isolation.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marcellos)

“Every matchbox is different,” Ms Oakley said.

“They consist of a background, with some other elements inside the matchbox for a 3D format. All collaged and cut by hand.”

Ms Oakley began working with collage after her home and business were destroyed by the 2013 Bundaberg floods.

Her early works involved cutting postage stamps to create large-scale portraits and the process helped calm her mind.

A portrait of Donald Trump created from postage stamps.
Ms Oakley’s early collage work involved portraits created from postage stamps.(Provided by: Marlies Oakley)

Working with matchboxes was caused by a more recent stress – COVID-19 lockdowns.

“A few years ago I found a big box of matches at the Tender Centre,” Ms Oakley said.

“I had forgotten about them, but then I opened them during the COVID lockdown and I thought, ‘Oh, what can I do with them?’ and I started to collage them.”

Each matchbox contains its own “strange” or “funny” little story and when linked, represents the common feelings of isolation and disconnection during lockdown.

“They’re all their own stories because during COVID we all kind of got inside our own homes and cocoons and nobody got out,” she said.

Match boxes filled with small pictures pasted inside.
Each matchbox has a background, with images pasted to form an individual story.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marcellos)

“We started thinking inside our own box.

“I love them all, I just giggle when I see them.”

Matchboxes generate interest

The artworks have attracted the attention of galleries, with Ms Oakley claiming several art prizes for her works, including the prestigious Martin Hanson Memorial Art Award and ‘Highly Commended’ Lethbridge Gallery Small Art Award, two years in a row.

Her 2022 entry ‘Thinking Inside the Box (cubed)’ is 462 matchbox stories linked to form a cube.

The cube took Ms Oakley about a week to create, in a process she describes as a “memory game” where she surrounded herself with images she had cut.

Creating the stories is a mindful exercise for Ms Oakley, but it is cutting the small images from books and magazines that has helped calm her mind the most.

A woman holds a large box that is a matchbox artwork with miniature collages.
Marlies Oakley with her cube that tells 462 collage stories.(ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marcellos)

“For hours I’m just cutting things out,” Ms Oakley said.

“Even if I don’t stick in a day, every night, even in front of the TV, I cut things out — it’s part of my life now.

“I had a holiday for three weeks and I didn’t do it and in the end I thought: ‘I need it, I miss it’. I go into my own little world and cut and paste.”

An expensive undertaking

Sourcing the matchboxes is one of the only downsides to Ms Oakley’s creations, with many stores out of stock.

And they are not cheap.

“It’s quite expensive to find the old matchboxes,” Ms Oakley said.

“But I found a really good supply at a big hardware store—I don’t know if they use it for grilling or whatever, but you can still get it.”

She removes the matches and places them in a large jar, which she can use in a piece of art in the future.

Ms Oakley’s artwork ‘Thinking Inside the Box (cubed)’ is currently on display at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery as part of the HERE + now 2022 exhibition, which runs until 13 November.

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