The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Dorset artist: Working with the sea – Sean Curley

Tim Saunders talks to Poole’s prolific maritime painter Sean Curley

Harbour at West Bay

Harbour at West Bay

Over the last decade Sean Curley has produced more than 100 paintings of Weymouth, West Bay and Poole featuring his trademark brightly coloured fishing boats. His largest painting is an 8ft x 3ft triptych and the smallest measures just six inches by four.
His work, particularly popular among Sandbanks residents, pays homage to the local fishing industry; it is the busy nature of harbours, the colourful boats and the gritty realism that most appeal to him.
‘Poole, West Bay and Weymouth are all working harbours, which for me provide a better composition than other settings because there’s always something happening. They are ever-changing in terms of light, movement and, of course, seagulls. The compositions are not perfectly posed, as in Gainsborough’s paintings, for instance,’ says Sean who draws inspiration from Renoir’s works including Luncheon of the Boating Party.
‘Poole and Weymouth are the largest with ferry services while West Bay is a more traditional harbour with small fishing boats. I like the fact that this trio are working harbours generating business and continue to survive during increasingly challenging economic times. Poole has a nice fishing fleet, which supplies restaurants on the quay and it’s the same with West Bay, which supplies Bridport – I paint it most weeks. There are plenty of fish and chip shops in Weymouth so supply and demand is well matched at all three locations.’

Poole Harbour with the Barfleur

Poole Harbour with the Barfleur

At the vast natural harbour of Poole, he has found himself painting Brittany Ferries’ Barfleur as well as yachts and the panoramic views. ‘It’s good to live near Poole so that you can visit the harbour with ease when the right weather conditions arise. I have been there at the crack of dawn but I do prefer the evening at Poole. The skies are important and I have discovered the best scene is when the sun sets. I also need nice cloud formations and colours,’ adds Sean, who prefers to use straight oil paints without mixing them to ensure the brightest colours.
At Weymouth there are the fishing trawlers and associated buildings that frequently fuel Sean’s artistic appetite. At West Bay smaller fishing boats are set against the backdrop of the cliffs, which provides a suitably different setting.
‘I love the bright colours of the fishing boats. For me they are very similar to flowers such as the red of poppies against the green. I believe the boats are such a bright colour so that they stand out, which helps if they get lost at sea, but this also really lends itself to canvas. I greatly respect this industry.’
Despite the challenges faced by Dorset’s fishermen each year they play their part in helping the UK fishing fleet land around 600,000 tonnes of seafood at home and abroad, for a total of £830 million (according to the Marine Management Organisation), although only four per cent of fish is brought in by smaller boats.
Aside from taking a healthy interest in the fishing industry, Sean also makes a point of knowing his boat registrations. ‘PE is for Poole, WH for Weymouth and W for West Bay. It shows the observer where a particular boat is based and it definitely adds something to a piece and often forms the name of a painting.’
He is all too aware of the fact that fishing is the most dangerous peacetime profession. According to Seafish, the authority on seafood, 94 commercial fishermen in the UK have died in the last ten years and 25 per cent of fishermen claim they have had an incident at sea which put their life at risk. The already perilous lives of fishermen were dealt a double blow in the severe storms that struck during the winter of 2013.

Fishing boat at West Bay

Fishing boat at West Bay

‘Many fishermen, particularly those in coves, with tidal restricted harbours such as West Bay and those launching from beaches were unable to fish for months,’ recalls Sean. ‘Those winter storms prevented fishing, caused the loss of fishing pots, smashed harbours, and in extreme situations boats sunk in the harbours. While the winter storms had an impact on many fishermen around the UK, those particularly affected were the inshore fishing fleets, especially those fishermen who operate day-boats located around Dorset. And these feature heavily in my paintings.’
Sean, who works from photographs, typically takes about 20 and then mixes and matches them to produce his ideal painting back in the studio.
‘Fishermen do sometimes get in the photo but they are very much working and there is no posing whatsoever. I use a small camera that takes great photos and is ideal for shots of fishermen, because you don’t want to make it obvious and put them off hauling in their nets.’
Sean has lived in Poole since the age of 14 after his parents relocated to the area. ‘When I first arrived in Dorset I played in a band and later ended up falling for Andrea, who was Rob, the drummer’s sister. Andrea is a psychologist and she does read things into my paintings,’ says Sean, who still plays the guitar and does host the occasional exhibition of his work as part of a music gig.
He often exhibits with award-winning sculptor Philip Jackson and his work can be seen at Quarr Gallery, Swanage and Beaulieu Fine Art. ◗   ❱ www.seancurleyfineart.co.uk

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