May 10

Interview: Lee Callister, founder of Cal&Co

Last week we sat with Lee Callister, founder of Cal&Co and one of MUSE’s first members. He opened up to us about his life, career and artistic interests.


I have worked in advertising my entire career. I started off as a graphic designer and progressed into a creative director. Now I run my own consultancy, here at MUSE. Being in remission from lymphoma, I have become much more community-minded, and fundraising through cycling has been a major focus of mine. Every year, our club uses creativity to generate funds – we’ve raised about 100K for various charities. The community keeps me going.


When did your creative/artistic life begin?


My parents were both designers (interior and graphic), so I naturally progressed into that world from a young age. My photography and my professional work are both part of my creative flow. I have worked with a lot of photographers who are also my friends, and I love getting to the stage where boundaries are crossed – you become a seamless team.


You’ve been running your own company for many What initially encouraged you to start your own business and build your own network of clients?


There is a point in a creative’s career where you question whether you are working on the things that you like doing. As a senior in an agency, you elevate to management tasks and spend a lot of time in meetings and fighting battles rather than doing the things you like. So, the flexibility and variety of being self-employed have always been important factors for me, as well as being able to choose the people I work with. Working for myself is not as lucrative but I can manage my own tasks and my own time. When you have kids, you want to be able to spend time with them.


What is the thinking behind your work?


There are many different ideas in my work, but there is usually an aesthetic composition, especially incorporating intense, strong colour, which is recurrent.


What aspect of entrepreneurship do you find to be the most challenging?


Understanding your own worth. Every job is different, and every company that comes to you is different. The hard part is determining what value to place on your work and translating that monetarily to reflect the quality of it.


If you had one advice to give to young creative entrepreneurs, what would it be?


Have a crack! Take Richard Branson, he failed more than once before becoming a successful entrepreneur. People follow him because he is wise – but he learned from losing, not from winning. So just try. There’s room for everybody to have a go.


Can you name one of your favourite artists and tell us how their work has inspired you?


When I was younger I loved Brett Whiteley. He was a darling of the Australian art world in the 60s and 70s. I liked the way he viewed the world.


Nowadays, social and digital media have allowed everyone to be more expressive. Banksy recently opened a hotel on the Israeli West Bank Barrier and his art is all over the walls. His work inspires me because it has a reason and a movement behind it.


Tell us about your favourite place in Surry Hills.


Design Partners, the company my father used to own as an interior designer back in the 60’s. I have many memories of running up the hill to Crown Street and the park.


Lastly, how would you describe your experience as a member of MUSE?


I’ve been a member since the opening. As soon as I walked in I loved it, it’s completely in line with my language.