As Nate Cordery jumps off his bike and unlocks the door to the Open Studios, beneath the distinctive arches on Brighton seafront, he never knows what the day will hold. The cycle ride from his Hove home is a fixture in Nate’s daily routine. However, his creative process is as fluid and changeable as the weather and sea that laps the beach against the backdrop of the city’s piers. All these subjects, and many more, have featured in his work.

‘I love to try things I’m unfamiliar with, be it subject matter, or materials I use or approaches to mark making which are the techniques and physical gestures of constructing a painting and includes using different tools and materials,’ he explains. ‘It keeps me exploring.’

A glance around the Open Studios, and nearby Art5 Gallery where Nate’s work is sold, is testimony to this. Colourful canvases of dancing wildflower meadows rub shoulders with sweeping seascapes and skies, expansive landscapes, lithe swimmers, intimate portraits, people going about their daily lives, tranquil nudes and the artist’s self-portraits. ‘Some people used to tell me that as an artist you should follow a certain path and almost narrow yourself down to a certain subject or style, but that idea used to freak me out,’ says Nate. ‘I don’t want to stay the same and I want to keep growing and learning, although I also understand the value of taking something down a line and seeing how far you can go with it and how you can develop that style or idea.’

Great British Life: Nate says that Brighton Palace pier is very 'kiss me quick' (c) Nate CorderyNate says that Brighton Palace pier is very 'kiss me quick' (c) Nate Cordery

Nate, 43, says an interest in the Impressionist movement, famously championed by artists such as Monet, Renoir and Degas, helped shape his work and personal philosophy of not being limited by self-imposed boundaries. ‘Style wise I’d say I was largely influenced in my earlier work by Impressionism,’ he says. ‘I love colour, mark making and a painterly approach. Also, there’s something about the freedom of making a painting that isn’t constrained by acute realism.’

The seaside, Sussex countryside and his brother Sam’s love of cold-water swimming are among the stimuli behind some of Nate’s ‘distinct phases’. This in turn sees him work inside or completing paintings en plein air - outside - using acrylic, oils, ink and chalk pastels as the various moods take him. ‘Having a studio on the seafront and going backwards and forwards from Hove you get to see it in all weathers, and you get the lovely sunsets,’ he says. ‘I used to do a lot of plein air painting and go out into the Sussex countryside. I was influenced by a Hockney exhibition in 2012 where he talked about the Impressionists and being in the environment and painting directly from the landscape.

‘I have often felt I have been given permission to do something when I see an example of an artist behaving in a certain way, or doing a certain kind of activity. I think, all right, if they are able to do that then maybe I can paint in that way, too.’

The striking series of swimmers’ paintings began with his brother going out in the sea and taking images with his GoPro. ‘They are a fantastic blend of painting the human form and the nature of water and light,’ says Nate. ‘Great abstract effects can emerge and it is something that crosses and blends subject matter.’

Great British Life: Hold Your Breath is one of his Swimmers series (c) Nate CorderyHold Your Breath is one of his Swimmers series (c) Nate Cordery

Back on dry land, a visit to the Sussex Prairie garden at Henfield triggered a passion for wild flower meadows. ‘Nature is a huge source of inspiration,’ he adds. ‘Be it the South Downs, the ever-changing sky and sea, or the infinite chaos of a wildflower meadow. I started a series of floral paintings at the end of last year and it began as an exploration of colour. I got so excited by them that every day I just wanted to turn up and get stuck into that. I was doing them for about two months and then I went away with my partner and when we came back it had interrupted that flow. I couldn’t feel the thing to get back into it and then I moved on again. Subjects will just engage me for whatever reason and then I come to a natural conclusion with them.’

That said, Brighton Palace Pier and the charred remains of the West Pier are recurring themes. ‘I get teased when I do a seascape and friends say, aren’t you going to put the pier in there?’ laughs Nate. ‘I know the Palace Pier is a bit kiss-me-quick, but I like it and visitors like it. I can see it from my studio and it brings back memories of being a little boy and coming down to Brighton and going in the arcades.’

Nate’s early years were spent in Sheffield and although he was 32 when he started working as a full-time artist, his work attracted interest from a very early age. ‘My parents took me and my siblings to galleries and were very supportive,’ recalls Nate. ‘My father used to encourage all of us to draw and he once sat me on the opposite side of the road to our house and got me to do a drawing of it. I was about eight and I remember passers-by engaging with me and being really lovely.’

Great British Life: Brighton Bandstand under Nate's gaze (c) Nate CorderyBrighton Bandstand under Nate's gaze (c) Nate Cordery

Nate developed a keen interest in fine art and after his A Levels embarked on a foundation course with a view to going on to complete a degree. His girlfriend at the time then moved to Brighton and he decided to do the same.

‘I don’t know if I saw it as a way out but I think the art world had started to intimidate me a little,’ he muses. ‘A Levels had a flavour of competition and that’s when I started to feel the ambition of some of my peers and I was almost scared to pursue my dream because of a risk of failure.’

Putting aside his artistic aspirations, Nate followed the career path of his parents and went into the health care sector. He ended up managing a dementia home care service for Brighton & Hove City Council. Ironically, personal health issues bought this to an end and led him back to art.

‘I have Crohn’s and I became very unwell at the time,’ he says. ‘But through being ill I pursued the thing I had neglected. Whenever I heard a patient talk about art or say they had been an artist I always felt a pang, even though I hadn’t painted between the age of around 19 and 27. Then I had three weeks off work and thought about what I was going to do with my time and I got my paints out. That’s when I really started to think art was my love and my passion and I pursued it. I started out by treating the first few years like being a student again. I’d buy affordable materials and find materials such as bits of plywood left in a skip. I was really frugal and experimental.

Great British Life: He refuses to be limited to one style (c) Nate CorderyHe refuses to be limited to one style (c) Nate Cordery

‘When I was at college I thought I’d be a portrait painter. I find people’s faces fascinating and a wonderful subject matter, so I started doing that again. Then I went a bit wild and crazy and delved into art history and started trying different styles, whether that was Pollock, Impressionist or still life, just to enjoy it. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that the best way for me is through direct experience and getting involved, learning theoretically is not the way for me.’

After a year painting in Cornwall, Nate moved back to Sussex where he lives with his partner Ruth, an occupational therapist he met during his time in the care sector.

Originally working from a studio at the former Bentley Wildfowl attraction near Lewes, a turning point came five years ago when he was introduced to ceramicist John Dunn, the founder of the Open Studios. Nate now manages the studios and works alongside other resident artists. ‘It’s a godsend and has been wonderful,’ says Nate. ‘Painting can be a solitary activity and it’s lovely to have members of the public come in and talk to you.’

Great British Life: Waves crashing on the beach are something he paints again and again (c) Nate CorderyWaves crashing on the beach are something he paints again and again (c) Nate Cordery

As well as being sold through the studio, Art5 and online (, Nate’s work has been exhibited in Sheffield and London. It has been sold throughout the world with prices starting at around £150, as he wants to keep art affordable, and going up to £2,000 plus for large canvases.

‘Brighton is a joyful place and a fabulous subject with the backs of houses, rooftops, the crowds of The Lanes, the sea and then the countryside on our doorstep,’ he says. ‘It’s a rich place to live with plenty to enjoy as an artist.’

With that, he settles down to a day’s work to capture the next phase of his multi-faceted and evolving artistic career.