When Sue Lord was 12 she was paid 75p for painting happy faces on 100 garden gnomes. Today she is one of Britain’s foremost painters of seascapes and her pictures carry price tags of four figures.
But it has been a long haul.
Her fascination – and understanding – of the sea dates back to the days when, landlocked in a London flat, she absorbed every screening of TV series like the Onedin Line and Poldark.
Teaching English and Drama at a Hackney school in the East End of London was never going to satisfy her craving to be close to boats and the tireless change of tidal waters. So she began searching for a job that would bring her close to her all-consuming passion and in 1979 her dream began to come true – a job teaching English at Looe Community School and a house within a stone’s throw of Polperro harbour.
Polperro is an ancient community which in the past thrived on pilchard fishing and smuggling and still has a small fleet of working fishing boats. It was – and is – a perfect setting for Sue to polish her skills at capturing the magic and the mystery of the sea.
Nowadays, when you see a Sue Lord seascape you feel that if you touched the water she has created your hand would come away wet. How has she managed to make her seascapes come alive when so many others produce paintings which are still and sterile? – full of awkwardly bobbing boats so malformed they look as though they are about to overturn.
Sue started by spending long hours just looking, studying the way the sea moves, the sometimes subtle, sometimes violent changes of its moods and colours. It is only by doing this that she achieves her goal of making her seascapes come alive.
Altogether, it took her 25 years to feel that she was ready to tackle the task she had set herself – to capture the vibrancy of the sea and the chameleon tricks it plays with movement and colour.
Now her paintings are to be seen, along with other local artists, at the Polperro Arts Foundation Gallery (in between ‘The Blue Peter’ and ‘The Three Pilchards’ pubs by the harbour) and Wesley Gallery and also Riverside Gallery in West Looe. You can see the quality of her work by taking in the sign swinging outside the unique ‘House on the Props’ restaurant (also overlooking Polperro harbour).
Sue’s first exhibition was at the Polperro Festival in 1995. Her paintings were in the Mill House pub by the River Pol which gurgles its way through the village into the sea. No punters gurgled into the Mill House to snap up Sue’s offerings however, and it was something of a confidence-sapping experience. One local said,’Sue, I thought you were just a teacher, I didn’t know you could paint.’
It was not until the opening of the Polperro Foundation Gallery that her work began to sell in (at around £75 for a print). By 2009 she was selling originals from the Fowey River Gallery for up to £3,000.
Written by Jack Crossley, a Times writer who has watched Sue's painting develop over the last twenty years.