A colourful escape from life

23:11, Aug 31 2014
Catherine Roberts
THAT MEDITATIVE THING: Catherine Roberts in her Wellington studio. "Busy life turns off when i'm painting. I'm often painting scenes that are a lovely escape, that meditative thing, retreat and escape."

Catherine Roberts' painting Vulnerable is a study in unrestrainedly gorgeous colour, great swathes of sea blues and aquas spreading over a 120cm by 120cm canvas. This glossily indulgent interpretation of a coral reef from above won her this year's New Zealand Art Show's top award.

The Signature Piece Award for Roberts' artwork, deemed most popular by visitors to the July show, came with $5000, which she may use to help mount an exhibition at Artbay, the Queenstown gallery which sells her work.

"Colour," she says, "is probably the basis of a lot of my work, colour and use of it. Beauty and simplicity are very important, and were important in Vulnerable. It's very simple except for the colours. They are the standout to grab people's attention, this dark blue and nothing much else going on but a bit of contrast to make the blue stand out."

Perfection, she says, is not the aim: "You don't want things to look too perfect, it's not realistic. If a painting's looking too balanced there's a need to unbalance it."

Abstract seascapes like Vulnerable - which sold for $2900 - are a new departure for Roberts who has previously been concerned with the bush and its predominant green.

"A couple of years ago I was looking through a book on glaciers. These things exist in nature, amazing and beautiful, and in glaciers there are crazy bits of red and pink - the same in a coral reef from the air. I see the colours as deep, dark blue sea and red and orange you wouldn't expect to see but is all there naturally."

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All her sea-coloured paintings sold quickly at the show, she says. This year she hung 28 works and sold 24 - "quite a few of them on opening night. I went in and there were big, blank spaces. I was a bit shocked. . . it was a lovely way to start the whole event." Several showgoers commissioned work.

The show has been her launching platform. She first exhibited in 2009, was surprised not to see her three paintings hanging when she got to the opening, and discovered they had been sold and were gone.

"That was my first experience and boost of confidence. Having my own wall space the next year was a big step. You have to be there to represent yourself. I was a bit mind-blown. It took a lot of energy, but I did it, I survived, and the following year I knew I'd survive, but it's hard work to be there and talk to people. I'm a shy person and that was a huge thing for me on a different level, not just about art but talking to people."

Self-taught Roberts, 37, has drawn and painted for as long as she can remember. At college in Wellington "art was the only subject I willingly did. My maths and science books were full of drawings and doodles".

Painting was a hobby she fitted round caring for her four children until a relative organised for some of her abstract landscapes to be hung in the Bach Cafe in Island Bay.

Her work sometimes features elements of realism, like birds or ferns - "but then the rest of it will be defused. I don't have the patience to paint realistically. My mind runs at 100 miles an hour."

Roberts once contemplated a design course but has discounted ideas of formal training. "I've developed my own thing for such a long time, it would be difficult for someone to tell me how to paint. I love the idea of being taught, but to be honest I don't think I have the mind-space to consider it. I don't think it would change what I was doing - but I would find it interesting to learn the more in- depth side of art."

"For me, painting is therapeutic, an escape from life. Busy life turns off when I'm painting. I'm often painting scenes that are a lovely escape, that meditative thing, retreat and escape. I hope people who look at the paintings get that sense of relaxation."

The Dominion Post