They say art imitates life, but for Northern Rivers much-loved powerhouse couple Roberto Meza Mont and Craig Ruddy, the opposite is also true.
The life they've woven together over two decades, reflects the masterful art that has won Craig much international acclaim.
Like all the best love stories, it's crafted with depth, passion, creativity and an eye for detail.
"There are similarities in how I create in both art and life" agrees Craig, who won the coveted Archibald prize in 2004 for his striking David Gulpilil portrait 'Two Worlds'.
"Finding balance and harmony in the differences is part of any great composition."
Creating harmony through juxtapositions is what Craig does best.
"We grew up in different parts of the world but we like the same things. In a way, we're very yin and yang , but through our journey, we've found ways to complement each other and keep evolving to greater heights," says Roberto.
Their contrasts are stark - lively Roberto, a pragmatic extrovert with sultry dark Latino looks and moves, the perfect foil to the more insular, fair skinned Craig with his tousled blonde hair and subtle swagger.
"If it wasn't for Roberto, I would probably be on my own in a little cabin in the wilderness, distant from humanity. I'm more of an introvert, Roberto's an extrovert. I need my quiet time and Roberto thrives on being surrounded by people and he's always upbeat."
They share similarities too - the scars of past ostracism, fathers with high expectations and unable to embrace or encourage their sons dreams.
My father disapproved of my artistic dreams and believed it to be impossible to make a living as an artist.- Craig Ruddy
The 53-year-old contemporary artist's story is well documented, "As a child I had a rare lung condition where my lungs would haemorrhage, leaving me anaemic and short of breath. It slowed me down and put me into a strange euphoric state. As a result I learnt to sit and observe."
It's a trait this gentle man has carried through his life, an ability to capture the subtlety most of us miss.
The loveable Roberto's story is no less colourful.
"I grew up in Peru, I am quarter Chinese, and went to a strict conservative Chinese school before becoming a banker. It was not nourishing to my soul, nor was living in a religious place. It didn't allow me to express my sexuality. I needed to discover who I was in life, find my true gift. I was very unhappy, thinking life should be larger than this."
Alone, he made the bold move to Australia at 22, a good Catholic boy flung straight into the wild Sydney party scene of those times. And so began their journey together.
"It was a pretty hectic and fun time," he recalls with a cheeky smile.
"I got lost in it for a while. But it meant to be part of my journey though it didn't fulfilling my soul."
Craig chimes in, "I was immersed in my art at that stage so really just had to let it play out. But it got dangerous. Everyone loved him and would offer him anything and everything. "
"I knew I needed to escape the superficiality," continues Roberto, "To rediscover my essence, and the strength to say no."
The life changing moment came when Craig encouraged him to explore Vipassana meditation.
"That was a game changer. I came back to me. I started to enjoy the quiet life, connecting back in with what is important, nature, earth, spirit."
Now Roberto rejoices in the quiet bush home they have created, although socialising remains a big part of their life.
"It took a while to find the balance. Community is everything to me. I love staying connected."
Both have been rescued and rescuer for each other at times... " there was a time when Craig was needing help, after his early successes ," says Roberto "There were many pitfalls and it took patience as he worked that out with my support."
Renowned in the shire for their community input, zest for life and hospitality, the harmony and respect this couple share is clear, as they banter while cooking omelettes in the sunny kitchen overlooking lush acres. Craig's strong, colourful portrait of Bruce Pascoe lights up the room, a daily reminder of his compassion for the indigenous plight, a theme that permeates his past works.
Recognition of Australian Indigenous culture is a strong driver for the self confessed empath. His Gulpilil piece is acclaimed as profoundly important for our nation, with its timely message of Indigenous recognition and reconciliation.
As he pours bubbles, Roberto chops home-grown veggies. It's an easy flow - they speak and listen in equal measure, testimony to 20 years of partnership.
"One thing we share that makes our relationship work is a disdain for status, money and ego, says Roberto. "Our core values centre around kindness - soul, spirit , connection."
"To me it is not about having your name plastered in newspapers or millions in the bank. Happiness is not external."
"And I am exactly the same" agrees Craig.
So why settle in the whisper-quiet The Pocket, after the array of lively playgrounds they've experienced around the world?
"This land found us. When we drove up the long steep driveway it was like entering another world. It was a magical grounding moment. I knew it was going to be our home," Craig confesses.
And what a home they've created. An airy open-plan barn like house with huge decks overlooking a stunning ridgeline, that sits alongside a rustic workshop where I am privy to his latest collection. The studio abounds with dramatic female nudes interwoven with richly textured abstract landscapes and a collection of striking self portraits, all awaiting release.
A floating deck around the studio is underway, and an area for work outs, meditation and impromptu dances. Its a home they love to share. They are famous in the shire for their generous parties and sexy dance moves.
"Dance is a huge release for me. I grew up doing folk and salsa," says Roberto.
It's been a wild ride for the young Peruvian. He has grown from young muse to co-captain of the engine room. Roberto reflects with gratitude on how far he's come from the naive lad escaping the congested streets of his homeland.
"I admit, It took me a while to get used to the quiet life here. But now I love what nature offers. It allows me to reflect. Craig has really taught me that. He brings out the best in me."
"Roberto is the connector," says Craig. "His drive and sociability plays a big role in our success."
He also has his own big projects on the go, including a TV series he has written about transforming a rural town through dancing Salsa.
"I needed to dissolve the rigid controlling past, Roberto reflects, "I am now free, exploring, at ease and with open arms and open heart."
Humble, famous, globetrotting, bush dwellers. Balance in the contrasts. Two beautiful men making every day a piece of art.
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