Artist Caroline Cleave works from her studio in the heart of the historic village of Port Isaac where she has lived with husband Jon, from the Fishermen Friends, for over 30 years.
From large to small scale, her colourful and realistic work of fish, crabs, lobsters and wild foliage celebrate the beauty of the coast and countryside. Using both acrylic, ink and watercolour, her captivating works instil a sense of joy and an understanding of the fragility of coastal life whilst also alluding to themes of sustainability and the changing face of life along the northern edge of Cornwall.
Many are linked to the “catch” brought in by the small inshore fishing boats which have sustained the village for generations. Two large canvases celebrating this history and the huge herring shoals on the north coast now adorn the walls of Nathan Outlaws Michelin starred restaurant. A kindred spirit, Nathan Outlaw is also passionate about the journey of the fish to the plate from the sea.
Her designs can be seen at Boathouse, the family business in Port Isaac and her paintings are regularly exhibited at Whitewater Gallery in Polzeath and her designs are distributed internationally through www.emmaball.co.uk.
Remarkable then that Caroline actually grew up in the West Midlands, as far from the sea as possible. Her home life was very happy and creative largely because her father was multilingual, incredibly imaginative and loved the outdoors. Brilliant at painting, sculpting and drawing he inspired Caroline and her two sisters to express themselves artistically at an early age. Having completed their degrees all three girls went into Education Caroline specializing as an Art teacher in Bristol.
She has happy childhood memories of a kitchen full of life-sized sculptures, and now inspired by her father, she too creates enormous sculptures made from willow and tissue, working on the famous Cornish City of Lights festival for several years. Recently she has brought about the same inclusive annual tradition of a Christmas lights parade to Port Isaac which is a much-loved community event enabling young and old to participate.
Caroline can’t remember a time when she wasn’t painting or creating. “It’s something that is innately in me and what I was always encouraged to do, it’s who I am.” After surviving breast cancer several years ago, she made a conscious decision to pursue her art full time. Since then all the opportunities she had always wanted to have come her way and with new strength, courage and confidence she has embraced them all. Most recently, she had the opportunity to work with renowned print maker John Howard in his open studio in Penryn. The prints she created have added to and expanded the breadth of her work and were an exciting addition and well received at her latest exhibition.
Now long established in her village, her home a beautiful old Captains house nestled in the valley, Caroline is surrounded by everything she loves and rarely lacks inspiration. With her sketch book always in hand, she is constantly sketching “I used to be embarrassed about doing this in public, but I've learnt from a lobster that if you back yourself into a corner no one can look over your shoulder!”, laughs Caroline.
Someone once described her studio, set across the stream from their garden as “seeing inside her head”. Everything is on show for her to reference yet there is still a sense of peace and calm. Her beloved Jack Russell, Fig, is her constant, patient companion watching as her ideas come to life, along with their Muscovy ducks and ducklings who wander in if the door is open for too long.
When Caroline is not in her studio, she can be found Gig rowing, a strenuous Cornish sport she is passionate about and has competed in for over 25 years. After a peaceful day in the studio she, with 6 of her favourite women friends can be seen rowing out of Port Isaac harbour. Pods of dolphins, soaring sea birds and dramatic cliffs, and lots of laughter serve to refresh her perspective on this inspiring stretch of coastline.
You can visit Caroline’s studio by appointment only or during Cornwall Open Studios, which runs from the 23rd – 31st May 2020.
Find your Port Isaac holiday home here.