Marine artist Carey Chen, whose unparalleled portraits of life at sea are recognized worldwide and have catapulted him to the forefront of the marine art industry, discusses his passion for the ocean, what inspires him and his current projects.
SB: What prompted your creativity?
CC: Growing up in Jamaica and Miami I was always surrounded by water. I fished and dived regularly. The incredible fishing scenes and vivid colors of game fish stuck in my mind. With my sharp memory and artistic talent I recreate these scenes on canvas for others to see. I was self-taught so practice was important to improving my art and also the close inspection of game fish anatomy.
SB: When did the marine world become part of your work?
CC: My first hobbies were motorcycles and racecars in Jamaica and Miami until I got my first boat, a 20-foot Sea Craft. I was fearless venturing across to The Bahamas in the days where there were no GPS. My fishing skills improved and soon I was a master fisherman entering marlin and sailfish tournaments. I started sketching billfish paintings and showed my fishing friends including George Poveromo, the late Capt. Harry and Don Combs. Capt. Harry asked me to design a painting for the cover of his catalog in the early 90s. It was primitive to me but everyone was impressed. The word spread, then the late Bill Rewalt who ran the Cayman Million Dollar month [fishing tournament] asked me to be the featured artist and also Luis Valldejuli who ran the oldest and most prestigious tournament, the San Juan International Billfish Tournament. Eventually I was the featured artist for more than 50 tournaments a year. I lived out of a suitcase traveling all over the Caribbean, Central and South America.
SB: What’s your main objective when you paint?
CC: Most animals are on the land to witness and photograph so there are thousands of animal artists. Marine art is very unique, so to be an experienced marine artist you need a lot of experience on the water, which is where sharp memory and fishing experience comes into creating a unique masterpiece. If I create a painting of a marlin underwater feeding on yellowfin tuna or Mahi the way I have seen it in real life up close, chances are that no one has ever photographed that scene and very few have witnessed it. It also represents Mother Nature at her best—I paint clean oceans and plenty of fish to remind people of conservation and pollution. I hope I can show how fragile our environment is through my paintings and teaching. We really need to keep our waters clean and our fish stocks healthy for the future of our kids.
SB: How often do you combine painting with photography or another medium?
CC: Besides being a marine artist I am also a photographer. I have separated both. My expertise is not in the camera’s settings and functions but in what I see through the lens as an artist. I am also not an expert at Photoshop, but enhancing the colors to the original scene in my mind is what I do best. Photos never come out the way you see it with the naked eye so they need to be adjusted. New technology has me painting on the computer. Although there are no physical originals this is good for logos or custom t-shirt art. I have also learned to paint my photos on the computer. fineartamerica.com/profiles/carey-chen.html
SB: What are some of your favorite places you’ve been?
CC: I am blessed to have traveled to the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, Central and South America. It’s not all about the beauty of these countries—it’s about the friends I have met along the way. Being an island person growing up in Jamaica I feel at home there and blend into their country. Cayman, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica are the places I’ve visited the most frequently for the past 30 years. Everywhere is unique. Cayman I love for its clear waters, Puerto Rico for its history and culture, Costa Rica for its lush rainforest and landscapes. St. Thomas U.S.V.I. has some of the most beautiful beaches too. I grew up exploring The Bahamas—it’s hard to beat their reefs and beaches.
SB: What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
CC: Born with a God-given talent, I like to give back. I’m involved with hundreds of charities and many conservation groups like the Coastal Conservation and Billfish Foundation. When I donate art it doesn’t cost me much but what it gives back to the charity is a lot. I enjoy going to schools and teaching kids art and conservation. I also have the best job in the world traveling all over, fishing while doing business.
SB: What are some of your favorite works?
CC: There are lots of pieces I like the best, but some bring back memories of growing up in Miami and diving in the keys like Hog Heaven, which is a hog snapper on the Florida Reef, and also Mutton Reef.
SB: Do you own a boat?
CC: Owning a boat is very hard for me since I’m always traveling and fishing. Although I’m usually on a big sport fishing boat in tournaments fishing for sailfish and marlin, I enjoy my flats boat, a Terrapin. They only made about seven of them. This is the best for exploring the Everglades for my photography and cruising my favorite place, Biscayne Bay, where I grew up.
SB: How do you see your line of work shifting and adapting in the future?
CC: What I do is very unique and there are not a lot of marine artists. This is a very big industry and growing. With the new digital printing technology we are able to put my art on almost anything like clothing, tables, towels, blankets, boat wraps, shorts, plates, etc.
SB: What are some of your new projects?
CC: My Napa wines are taking off and we have them in several Sam’s Clubs and Walmart, they are in all Big Daddy’s and also a lot of Florida Bars. bluewaterwinedist.com I just made a license deal with Denali Performance shirts for my printed clothing in chain stores. My new photo paintings are now online fineartamerica.com/profiles/carey-chen.html
Nathalie Gouillou, Southern Exposure July 2015