Meet Scilly-based Painter Ian Dunn

Seasalt has always been inspired by Cornwall’s artistic community and heritage, shining a light on local pioneers.


This month, we talk to Ian Dunn about the peace he’s found on the Isles of Scilly and the mystery of creative inspiration.

Ian wears our Men's Curator Shirt and Sailor T-shirt

How did you become an artist?

It’s always been in me. When I was four, I drew and drew – toucans and hornbills, Spanish galleons and wrecks. It developed from there and I’ve explored it over years and years.

Where do the ideas for your paintings come from?

My paintings explore whatever’s going on inside me. It’s like the gates open from my subconscious and it all pours out, without any warning. Off it goes and I’m into the next little phase. I don’t draw things out on the canvases before I paint, I just start and go with the painting.

What subjects do you explore in your work?

Many things appeal to me, everything from pure abstracts to nature paintings and seascapes.

There are continuously returning things, like a single figure in a fairly anonymous background, which carries a sense of stillness and a mystery.

The subject just comes and I don’t really ask any questions about it. Every painting has the right to keep its mysteries to itself.

Can you tell us a bit more about your process?

I like working human scale with large brushes. I’m an incredibly fast painter. It has to be impetuous and responsive. That’s much easier when you’ve got a great big brush and you just plunge it into the paint and do it.

Then I stand back and the painting suggests what it needs.

I don’t use expensive brushes. I like old, dried up rubbishy brushes and jumbo car wash sponges to smear everything around.

How did you come to live on the Isles of Scilly?

I lived abroad for about 30 years, part of that time in Greece on the Cyclades islands. I was thinking about moving back there. When I was Googling photos, some photos of Scilly appeared. I thought it was a grey, windblown, dark place. So I came on holiday for 10 days.

The sea and the islands themselves, there’s a peace. I felt so relaxed. Since moving here, I don’t want to live anywhere else.

Do the islands influence your work?

Not directly. I don’t paint geography. I paint what’s going on inside me.

Living here makes me feel relaxed and happy in myself. It permeates and somehow gives me the freedom to paint what I want.

Do you have a favourite island?

I like to go to the off-islands in the summer. My favourite is Samson. It’s a really nice feeling, going to an uninhabited island. There’s a mystery to it.

Tresco is probably the best island to do and see things. It’s got restaurants, cafes and paintings, gorgeous beaches and the gardens, which are amazing.

Do you prefer summer or winter on Scilly?

I like all the seasons. When the Scillonian stops running, you have five or six months with no boat to the mainland. I’m always happy to see it go. The islands fall into a sleepy hibernation.

Then I like it when the boat comes back. I’m ready to see people and dogs, life and colour again.

What do you wear in the studio?

I wear everything I shouldn’t when I’m painting. I come in in the morning and think, “I’m not going to paint in this”. And I’m so eager to get on with it, I can’t be bothered to change. So every piece of clothing I’ve got, is covered with paint.

Visit Ian at The White Gallery on St Mary’s.

See more information at www.iandunn-scilly.com