“The Wilderlands” @ Haven Gallery: An Interview with Adam Oehlers

As part of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’s exciting redesign and growth in the arts community, we are pleased to bring you more in-depth and varied content. In our dedicated efforts to evolve and show our gratitude for all your support, we proudly present the first of our gallerist’s discussions as Erica Berkowitz from Haven Gallery interviews Adam Oehlers!

We hope you enjoy as much as we do!

Adam Oehlers “The Wilderlands”

June 30 – August 4, 2018
Opening Reception: Saturday, June 30, 2018, 6-8pm

Northport, NY– Haven Gallery is pleased to present “The Wilderlands”, a solo exhibition of new paintings and shadowboxes by UK based artist Adam Oehlers. “The Wilderlands” is Oehlers’s second solo show at the gallery and is comprised of nineteen new works that traipse the wanderings and musings of our young selves as we imagine, discover and adventure through the wilderness. Friendships blossom and persist as Oehlers’s quintessential female protagonists look down from a birds nests up high, meander up thorny branches to visit a furry friend, hide amidst the leaves or fly high in the sky with birds. Oehlers’s classic autumnal palette endures with this collection of new work, reminding us that these escapades are not sanguine and innocent. Change is coming, challenges await and we must shine bright no matter how dark the shadows are before us.

“The Wilderlands are inspired by the countryside around my home. It contains the places I escape to, where I find that hidden magic that still thrives in the woods and fields. I want people to be swept through the woods and be led off the path to discover the hidden nooks of this wild place. To find the warmth and magic of its inhabitants from ancient trees to the lost strays that have wandered there too long.” – Adam Oehlers


Adam Oehlers was born in Coventry, England and now lives and works out of the UK. He works in pencil, pen and watercolour to create his Illustrations and shadowboxes. He is an award-winning illustrator and well known artist whose illustrations grace many publications, such as his interpretation of the classic text ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’, “Cinderella Jump Rope Rhymes”, his ghost story graphic novel “Dear Little Emmie”, ”The Errand” written by Leo LaFluer released in 2017 and the second in the series ”The Warlock” due to be released later this year. He is currently working on his next book ‘The Mushroom Garden’ which he has authored himself.

As well as his publications and exhibitions he has turned his hand towards animation, he has worked as concept artist for the Award winning Music Video for Steven Wilsons ‘Routine’, as Writer and Artist for Matallicas music video ‘Here comes Revenge’, Writer and Artist for Passengers music video ‘Beautiful Birds’ and Steven Wilsons ‘People who eat Darkness’, currently being use in his live shows, due to be released publicly soon. He also worked as writer and Concept artist for Ovosonios emotional award winning game ‘Last Day of June’.

His inspirations include well known illustrators such as Arthur Rackam, Gustave Doré, Edward Gorey, Tony Wolf, John Vernon Lord and Shaun Tan and he finds endless inspiration from the Music of Tom Waits, a constant backdrop to his studio. Oehlers work has been exhibited in the U.K, Europe, America and Australia.

Haven Gallery

155 Main St.,

The Carriage House Square

Northport, NY 11768


“The Wilderlands” continue to reminisce on the musings of our childhood imaginations, yet this collection appears darker than your last show with us, “The Fen Land Guide”. Themes of death, peril and foundering appear through this collection. Would you please expand on this?

I have often depicted figures having discovered strange and unknown landscapes, they enter a magical new world in awe yet the paths ahead are often unknown. With this collection, I wanted to explore more into the struggles the creatures and characters who live within the landscape. When I first started thinking about the Wilderlands as a real place, it was much more rugged, harsh and wild than a lot of the landscapes I have visited previously. The darker atmosphere came from me wanting to capture surviving the wild and making a home in the wild, the inhabitants weathering the storms making their journey through the seasons. I have tried to keep my usual glimmers of hope and magic within these themes which I feel gives a contrasting beauty to the world of the Wilderlands. There is hardship but also the freedom of adventure and magic that thrives within nature.

This collection features your newest exploration into shadowboxes. Would you tell us more about what inspired you to pursue this artform and how you find it effects the perception of your work?

My Shadowboxes first came to mind from the paper cutout work I have done on a lot of my animation projects. For these, in the beginning stages of the project, I would create the initial concept art in a layered form. These layers of illustration were all drawn by hand but layered digitally as a way of conveying to the client what the end animation style would look like. Whilst working on these I realized how much I wished I was building these scenes by hand. For me it was a very natural move from my illustration work into animation, and the move has felt just as natural into the Shadowbox pieces. With each piece I make I am learning new tricks and at the moment I am having great fun playing around with the effect of light created over 5 or 6 layers of illustration, my latest shadowbox piece from The Wilderlands called ‘The Silent Wood’ is a good example of this. I can’t wait to see what other tricks I can learn and where these shadowboxes are going to take me.

Did growing up in England and its downcast skies first lead you to working with your autumnal palette and do you believe it will persist throughout your work always? 

I was born in the UK but at a young age, my family moved out to Australia. In my early 20’s I returned, there was something about the British countryside, wildlife and gloomy weather that just drew me in. It is filled with an ancient magic and I fell in love with it. The colours and shades I use do reflect my view the British countryside, from which I find endless inspiration, especially in the colder months of autumn and winter. I also take a lot of inspiration from the classic illustrators that I admire such as Arthur Rackham. The washed out subtle tones he uses throughout his work create such a timeless feel for me and this is something I very much want to emulate. I can’t say that it will always persist through my work, but I can say that it has already developed much further than when I began working with watercolour. These days my use of colour is getting stronger than it has been and I think that in the future it may continue to do so. I think it will be a gradual shift though.

You have two beautiful daughters. How have they influenced your work and do you notice a change in the stories they tell, as they both get older?

It’s funny. Our eldest Daughter Nova is now just beginning to make up her own stories. We will often sit and build these stories together and they are the most surreal things that jump around from character to character and place to place. Nova also loves to draw and she spends a lot of time in our studio, sat at her own picture. Nom [Kinnear King, Adam’s wife] and I will both sit and draw with her – she loves fairies and dragons and these days seems to be drawing a lot of gardens and maps. The stories we build and share with her are often very light and lovely tales and I’m now wondering how much this has to do with the somewhat darker themes that run through the Wilderlands collection. Perhaps I have been naturally drawn to the darker elements of folklore in my own work having had put them on the backburner while creating lighter stories for the girls. Who knows ;) Our youngest girl Vaida is only 2 years old, I could read her tales from the Necronomicon and she would be happy. I love showing them my work and recently the Shadowboxes have gotten a great reaction from them. I remember myself being blown away by pop up books and things like this when I was young and I love the idea of creating these objects, emotions and memories for their childhood.

A reoccurring protagonist in your work is a young brunette girl. Who is she? 

My wandering protagonist, she is a ‘Lost Girl’. I feel as though she is a blank canvas, often her face can’t be seen, I think this enables us to project a little of ourselves onto her and feel as though a little part of ourselves is placed within her journey. She has simple hair and a plane dress or nightdress and wonders these strange lands bare footed. I’m sure there is some Alice reference in there, the adventure that we all took as children and I think this Lost Girl can remind us all of that, taking us back to that moment when we first stepped foot in wonderland.

A visual of searching and reclusion persist in quite a few of these new works. Who or what is our female protagonist looking for or hiding from? Would you say that in “The Wilderlands”, she has found herself in some more precarious situations than her past adventures? 

Unlike a lot of my previous stories which follow a more traditional adventure structure, the girls you see within The Wilderlands are very much trapped there, the landscape has claimed them. This collection shows moments of their lives, some are foraging, others hunting, others nestled in homes they have made for themselves. For me the main focus of this collection isn’t these lost girls but is the landscape itself. I have always been fascinated by the idea of a landscape being a living entity. This is a theme I often visit, in my Ghost story Graphic Novel ‘Dear Little Emmie’ it is the swampland that pulls her in and keeps her for itself, in my new book ‘The Mushroom Garden’ the landscape is ever changing and those that enter become one with it. This theme is strong again in this collection.  I see the Wilderlands as a character in its self, built of animals, birds, fairies and old magic where everything is connected.  Any time you see one of my Lost Girls within this collection it depicts them struggling in some way against the landscape, or within the landscape having found a way to survive with it.

Worlds of books appear throughout “The Wilderlands” as well as in your last show, “The Fen Land Guide”. What is the role these books play with their flurrying and flapping pages?

For me, books have always been the perfect escape, I love reading them, looking at them and drawing them, there is nothing more beautiful to me than a fully stocked bookshelf with its hundred of spines staring out at you. The role of the books in my work varies from piece to piece.  In the Fenland guide it was the books themselves, which carried our Lost Girl away and dropped her in the Fenland, they were her doorway to this other world. The books appear twice in The Wilderlands. In my piece ‘The Story Brook’ she is actually struggling against a flow of stories trying to hold onto however many she can grab. This came about from a thought I had of grabbing onto ideas when your head is just full of a maelstrom of activity, fighting against the constant flow of thought to hold onto an idea. You’ll notice that some of the books she’s grabbed are actually flying away from her, so it’s a constant battle. The second time they appear is in a much more tranquil setting in my piece ‘The House of Fallen Leaves’ here they are part of the setting, being climbed on and sat on by the Fairies. This house, which is the inside of the Cabin seen in my piece ‘The Grazing Downs’, is the winter home of the Fairies, they come here to shed their leafy  wings and wait out the cold months. When their new wings blossom, the cabin opens its windows and the fairies flutter out, bringing on the beginning of spring. This little story can be read on the open page of the book within the piece. I have used books in many ways, to portray loneliness, contentment, madness and calm. They are a staple object that appears often throughout my work and this is because I think they are beautiful and open a world of possibilities.

I relive many of my childhood fairytales such as Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Shrinking down to meander amongst the flowers and symbolically sustain ones, youth strike me strongly in this collection. Which fairytales have inspired you? Do you find once you tell your stories with paint that they evoke other tales or lore subconsciously? 

Over the last year or so, I have been really interested in playing around with scale. This is very prominent in the Wilderlands collection as well as in my book ‘The Mushroom Garden’ which I have been working on alongside this exhibition. In both of these collections, I play around with varying scale without ever having explained why. In the story of “The Mushroom Garden”, my protagonist a  one point encounters a crow the size of a horse, then rides on a snail which is by all account snail sized and then she is held aloft  on the fingertip of another character. I never explain the reason for this shift of sizes in the story and I think it adds this unsettling surreal quality to the flow of the book. It’s the same for the Wilderlands Collection. If you took the girl from my piece ‘Hunter’ and stood her next to the girl from my ‘Hatchling’ piece she would be a giant in comparison. I also like to play with the surroundings and make people question if she is small or if the flowers are huge. Is she a normal sized girl carrying a large rabbit surrounded by giant dandelions, or a tiny girl carrying a normal sized rabbit. It’s something I really enjoy playing around with. I love the thought of these characters of varying scale encountering one another whilst wondering through the wilderness.

The stories that inspire me are many, any tales of adventure, unlikely heroes, folklore of witches, beasties, strange creatures and happenings. It will often happen that while I am working on a piece an idea for a story will build as I work. Some of these stories are one off moments within this little world but other grow beyond, and lead onto another image and the story will grow further. This is how ‘The Mushroom Garden’ grew. I completed a piece by the same name and before I knew it I had completed more. It just kept on growing until I just had to sit down and put it into words.

 A little house appears occasionally in your paintings. A nomadic turtle carries this traveling home atop his shell in “The Grazing Downs” yet I cannot help but be reminded of an earlier piece entitled “From the Wreckage”, where a similar abode is depicted. Are these the same homes? Who lives in them?

I love including these little thrown together Cabins and shacks in my work, often with a warm inviting glow coming from inside. I love seeing places like this on my countryside walks, looking all beaten up and abandoned, raising the exact questions you asked, who lives there, who built them, how did they get there. I think its builds an uneasy kind of magic with the viewer, which is why I love to create them.

If you could choose one piece of music that you would imagine plays as the backdrop to your work, what would it be?

If I had to choose one tune for The Wilderlands it would have to be Tom Waits ‘Just the right Bullets’ from The Black Rider Album. In fact this and his album ‘Raindogs’ where listened to a great deal during the creation of this collection.

Do you ever sneak yourself into your work? As an animal or wizened old oak?

Haha! Not often on purpose but it has been known to happen. More often, it would happen that I complete a piece and then realize it looks like one of my friends or someone I know. I’m sure parts of myself creep in without my knowledge though.

What kind of impact do you hope “The Wilderlands” has on its viewers?

For them to leave feeling as though they have been wondering the paths, lost in the woods, tangled in the brambles and rested comfortably in the hidden nooks of the Wilderlands. I want this strange, beautiful and magical place to be as real to them as it is to me.

About Author

Internationally exhibited artist and creator of Wooden Ophelia, Bella Harris is not only the Online Editor at Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, she also oversees all staff writers and helps support website functionality and development. As a contributing writer for the website, active copy editor, and editorial photographer, she plays a vital role in the growth of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine while working closely with advertisers and artists. Wooden Ophelia is a contemporary collection of original moon designs, handmade woodwork, artwork furnishings, and sacred crystals... all to enchant your home.


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