A simple life and the circle of art

Child of the island Anthea Groves shows a new body of work.

Child of the island Anthea Groves shows a new body of work.

Artist Anthea Groves laughs as she calls herself “a turtle,” a quiet person leading a simple life, not particularly comfortable in large groups, making art mostly for herself.

And then every two years or so, her father talks her into having a show. At which point Groves hauls out and pores through her boxes of accumulated work, examines her evolution and figures out what will give viewers a worthwhile window into her world.

“You invite people into your home,” she said. “This is like inviting people into my brain for awhile.”

The series of 33 works on paper that Groves will show at Arts Studio beginning this weekend represents just a small portion of her overall collection. She draws “constantly” and usually has multiple pieces in progress at any given time, her “little exercises” constituting a visual journal that demonstrates her own way of seeing and working out the world around her.

“She’s always had her own imagery,” said Gary Groves, a printmaker, Anthea’s father and one of her biggest fans. “Her work is unique to her…it comes from who knows where.”

Circles and other organic shapes figure prominently in Groves’ current compilation. One set of drawings, of stars encased in circles, was inspired by the stand of a dozen or so alliums that she watched go to seed in her garden this year.

And a series of tires began as an exploration of plant forms, which shifted into eyes, which morphed into a sliced kiwi and finally became the spokes of a wheel.

Groves, whose given name is a secondary moniker for the Greek goddess Hera in a flowery incarnation, calls her pieces “drawings” as shorthand. But so many elements come into play within each small piece that that they could just as accurately be called paintings or collages.

Starting with old paper taped to a board – she incorporates everything from book pages to the trademark salmon pink newsprint of the Financial Times – Groves draws swirling, circular shapes in graphite, adding layers of paint, gesso and wood glue.

The works favor an earth-toned palette that includes shades of buff, rust, charcoal, peach, teal and mustard with occasional splashes of bright blue.

Groves has heard her art described as everything from murky, serious and mysterious to whimsical, the last of which she says made her “really mad.”

Because while she’s not interested in making a “big, major statement” with her art, her pieces result from thoughtful exploration. Some people write, she makes art, and creative expression is part of being human.

“When you squeeze the balloon, the air has to go someplace,” she said. “Here’s where mine goes.”

The circular motif characterizes Groves’ life as well as her art. She remembers an early childhood filled with visual stimulation in San Francisco and later, in the natural surrounds of Bainbridge.

After her 1985 graduation from Bainbridge High School, Groves got restless and fled back to San Francisco for art school, followed by back-and-forth stints in New York City and Seattle.

And finally, closing the loop, she moved back to Bainbridge seven years ago largely to be closer to family. She now lives in a lower-level apartment in her brother and sister-in-law’s house, the same house her family originally lived in when they moved to the island in 1977.

Initially Groves was ambivalent about moving back to the island after so many years in big cities but found she relished the quiet and the opportunity to keep her life simple – family, biking, her work with the roasting arm of the Pegasus Coffee & Espresso company and art.

She’ll be 40 this year, and getting older has led to a growing sense of contentment with her life.

“You sort of gain a new peace with yourself,” she said. “You have to go through things in your 20s. And go through things in your 30s. And then all the things you learned, you can finally start to use correctly.”

When it comes to art promotion, which her father jokes she doesn’t do enough of and he does too much of, Groves eschews the shrill jargon that contemporary art magazines glom onto in order to sell work.

On the other hand, she acknowledges that seeking stimulation and a heightened experience is part of what makes us people.

“Human life is pretty much mundane, and you want to see it in splendor,” she said.

She also acknowledges that it’s good for a turtle to occasionally come out of its shell. So while she’s nervous about her opening this weekend, she knows she’ll ultimately have a good time.

“As much as I kick and squirm, it’s awfully nice to get feedback from people,” she said. “It kind of brings life to the drawings by what people say and how they react to it…and I think that’s why art is really important. It gets people thinking.”


In the studio

Anthea Groves’ work will be on display from Sept. 9 to Oct. 13 at Arts Studio, 7869 Fletcher Bay Road, with an opening reception at 3 p.m. Sept. 9. Information: 842-1294.