Voyage of life, colour and understanding

By Martine Rolls for Creative Beat

For Russell Catley, art is about telling a story.

In his opinion, the most important thing that differentiates art from pretty pictures is that the viewer actually has to do something for it. That's why Russell Henri Catley is not a creator of one coat wonders.

"Art is supposed to move people, so it has to be something that makes them think. It has to be special enough to trigger an interest, so that it makes people work on it themselves when viewing it", he says.

Russell is 80 years old but he doesn't look it, nor does he act anywhere near the way most people do when they reach the senior years. He is a man with a passion for people, and he has a huge lust for life.

He is a gifted painter, but admits that it took him many years to get there.

Russell has only been working seriously on his art in the past few years, and the result of it can be seen at his first public exhibition which is scheduled at Creative Tauranga's gallery from May 24 until the end of the month.

"I love art, especially the works of European impressionists. I adore the works of Monet and Van Gogh for instance. Great paintings show movement.

The texture and the way the light reflects on them makes them exciting, but in the past I just didn't think I could do it", he says. 

"I have visited many great galleries in my travels, but it's only been in the last three years or so that I have been dedicated to painting myself. Practising art, and believing in it, takes courage."

It wasn't until Russell moved into his little cottage by the water in Te Puna, which boasts some of the best views in the Bay, that he first found and then explored his desire to paint.

"Moving here has triggered the bigger picture for me. The good people of Tauranga don't really know me yet, but that is about to change. The cream always comes to the top", he laughs.

Russell lives on a 7-acre lifestyle block that has two houses on it, of which he occupies the little cottage by himself. The owner of the property has become a dear friend, and he refers to her as his soul mate. 

"Living alone was a little frightening at first", he says, "but now I really love it. It is very peaceful here. I can do whatever I want at any given time, and this environment inspires me. If I want to get up at 3.00am in the morning to paint, then that is what I'll do", he says.

Russell, who raised four sons in his first marriage and then lovingly took onboard the joint task of raising his second wife's two daughters, does not at all mind being free and single at 80.

"I have spent a good 50 years of my life being a husband and a father, doing the best I could and providing for my family. The last six years have been all about discovering who I am all over again, and somehow it has brought me a sense of inner peace", he says.  

"I just closed my eyes, took the plunge, and hoped for the best."

He has lived an extraordinary life, starting out as an architectural designer and moving on to owning an antique business in Taupo, which led him to many interesting people and places all over the world.

No matter how far he has travelled, most of Russell's inspiration comes from New Zealand scenery. Most of his paintings are brought to life by colourful recollections of time spent in Otago, the Tongariro National Park, and the volcanic plains around Auckland to name just a few of the places that feature in his art.  

Russell's exhibition, appropriately named 'Join the Old Master on his Journey of Discovery, is open to the public from May 24. .

- Bay of Plenty Times

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