Pieces of me: artist Anita Groener
Gemma Tipton

Dutch-born artist Anita Groener came to Ireland in 1982, just for a year, or so she thought. More than three decades on, she lives here with her husband and two children, making work from the studio she built as an extension to their Sandycove home. Exploring themes of migration and humanity, her current, hauntingly beautiful exhibition, Citizen, ends tomorrow at Kilkenny’s Butler Gallery.

Describe your style?
Which is the room in your home you most enjoy?
Definitely my studio. It’s a tranquil place at the back of the house, overlooking the garden. Since I gave up teaching I have discovered the luxury of procrastinating, which is a virtue for creativity. I love lingering in the studio in the early morning, letting my thoughts unfold when all is quiet and all seems possible. Apart from the studio I love being at the dinner table, hanging out with family and friends over food and wine.

Who is your favourite designer? Do you own any of their work?
I saw a branching glass bubble chandelier, designed by Lindsey Adelman, in a Brooklyn home. Completely stunning, it was like an elegant sculpture hovering above the table, each bubble made of hand-blown glass. I would commission one, if I could afford it. I also love the timeless modernist classics of Charles and Ray Eames, and Dutch industrial designers like Willem Hendrik Gispen, particularly his Gispen 401 armchair.

What do you love most about your home?
What I love most is where and how I live: the house, studio and garden, and the way the light sweeps through the place. The house came to us in an extraordinary way. There had been an issue with the title, and we weren’t sure we’d get mortgage approval. While I was with my (then) five-year-old son in the agent’s office, a robbery took place. We never got to discuss the mortgage. A week later, approval came through.

The artists you admire?
Women artists without a doubt: those who doggedly make excellent work but are not credited on a par with male colleagues. Women artists have a battle to win to be valued equally in exhibitions, collections, and in auctions. Women artists make work from a distinctive perspective, and without that, the history of our world is not complete. It’s not a political question, it’s a fundamental human issue. When I was a young artist, I used to think it didn’t matter, that, male or female, it was simply about the quality of the work, but it does matter, a great deal.

I admire Irish artists including Eithne Jordan, Alice Maher, Maud Cotter, Anna Macleod and Niamh O’Malley for their tenacious attitude in cultivating their work. Internationally Vija Celmins, Agnes Martin and Louise Bourgeoishave been a huge inspiration. All of them for their discipline, Vija for her exquisite drawings and technique, Agnes for the regimented abstraction of material references, and Louise for her articulate, penetrating honesty but also for the fact that she had three children and a serious career.

My history of art lecturer in college said, “You girls, you’ll all get married and have babies and won’t continue working as artists because you can’t do it all.” I never forgot it, and it made me stronger. I did have two babies, I did marry, have a career, and so far these aspects of my life have been mutually inspiring, complementary and transformative.

Biggest interior turn-off?
Interiors without art and books are lifeless. And interiors where you get just one lightbulb dangling in the middle of the ceiling to light a whole room – that gives me the chills. Both are without nuance, dreadfully cold and uninspiring.

Travel destination that stands out?
Istanbul and parts of Turkey made a deep impression on me. Istanbul’s Egyptian bazaar is an explosion of colours, fragrances and patterns: out of this world; also standing in awe under the dome of the Hagia Sophia - there isn’t a building like it. Other inspiring sites in Turkey were going up the Bosphorus, swimming in the calcium carbonate terraced spring baths in Pamukkale, and wandering along the Greek ruins of Ephesus.

If you had €100,000 to spend on anything for the home what would you buy?
I would commission Yotam Ottolenghi to come cook for family and friends, and I’d learn a few things watching him. I could use more space to work so I’d also extend my studio, and if there was money left I could buy some Gispen chairs and commission a branching bubble chandelier… But before doing this I would set up a large industrial kitchen with a comfortable communal eating area for refugee families to cook their own food. We’d share food, stories and cultures. Direct Provision is a patronising system that needs to be changed. In this I’d be taking my cue from Michelle Darmody from the Cake Café and Slice, and Fiona Corbett of Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, whose Our Table was a similar pop up restaurant in Project Arts Centre last April. Imagine the prospect of making such a venture permanent.

This was originally published in The Irish Times, Jun 10, 2016 and can be found here.