Saturday 24 February 2018

My Favourite Room: Where the art is

Katie Tsouros and her mother Patricia are major figures in the Irish art world. No wonder, says Mary O'Sullivan, that their home is packed with the finest contemporary works

Patricia and Katie Tsouros
Patricia and Katie Tsouros
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

You've heard of the Jewish Momma and the Irish Mammy, and you thought they were over-protective. Now meet Patricia Tsouros, the Greek mitera who admits to texting her daughter Katie up to six times per day and constantly turning up on her doorstep when she lived abroad. Protective or stalking? Well you might ask. Mind you, Patricia is half Greek/half Irish so the mother gene is probably doubly concentrated in her.

Guess what, though? It's a strategy that has worked well for both of them; Katie, at 25, is fiercely independent and already has her own business, and what mother wouldn't want that for her daughter? At the same time, they are very close and share many of the same interests, including a love of art which is the basis for Katie's business -- she recently opened her own gallery in Donnybrook, called KTcontemporary and Patricia, of course, helps her out. "My PA," Katie jokes.

Theirs is a closeness that art collector Patricia attributes to the fact that they were alone together for the first few years of Katie's life. "I was 23 when I had Katie in London, and I split up from her father very quickly after she was born. We formed an incredible bond. I used to think, 'It's Katie and me against the world,'" Patricia recalls.

Strictly speaking, they weren't alone -- Patricia is very close to her own parents, who now live around the corner from them in Dublin 4. Her dad, Dimitrious, was a pilot who met and married her mother -- Terry Murphy, from Kildare -- in London. He then joined the UN as a diplomat and spent most of his working life in the Middle East; the family home was Athens, but Patricia and her sister, Athina, also spent time in Israel, Pakistan and Syria. "He speaks nine languages fluently. I speak English and Greek, but Arabic was my first language. I can only understand words now," Patricia admits with a laugh.

Patricia was educated mainly in international schools abroad, but came to Ireland to do her Leaving before heading for London. She and Katie came back to Dublin when Katie was a toddler, and Patricia worked in public relations before going into partnership with fashion supremo Ian Galvin when together they opened up the Irish branch of British store Whistles. During that time -- when Katie was four -- Patricia also met and married John Leech, who is in aviation. "He's a great father," she says while Katie nods vigorously. "And he's very proud of Katie, but he has no interest in art. He can't believe he's ended up with two women who are obsessed," she laughs.

Patricia had always been keen on art and that developed into a passion when she sold her interest in Whistles after nine years in the business. "I had a few years free and I started going to international art fairs. I travelled with Josephine Kelliher, of the Rubicon, a lot. I started by collecting. I buy mid-market; I'm at the cutting-edge stage. These artists are on their way but you don't know yet where they're going to go. What has really made it very exciting is that I've got to know all the artists whose work I've collected," she says.

These include both Irish and international artists -- her collection includes work by Eithne Jordan, Abigail O'Brien, Callum Innes, Mark Francis, Nick Miller and Phil Collins. Patricia has become a key player on the Irish art scene -- she's a director of ArtInForm, advises people about their collections, has written about art for The Gloss and she's been on the board of Imma for the last five years. She's also involved in Dublin Contemporary 2011, which will take place in September and October.

Of course, Katie has grown up watching her mum in action, absorbing the extraordinary pieces she's bought, which hang in their lovely home, and even meeting the artists. "I've hosted a lot of dinners for artists and Katie's always been involved," she explains.

Katie nearly didn't get involved in the art world. In fact, she had decided to study business and economics after finishing school, but a trip to Venice Biennale resulted in her changing her CAO choices to art history and philosophy, which she did in UCD. She followed this with an MA in contemporary art at Sotheby's. Practical experience includes interning at successful art enterprises -- the Sadie Coles HQ gallery and Artwise Curators in London, and the Rubicon Gallery and Imma in Dublin. Last year, she decided to open her own space -- despite the recession and a cityscape littered with failed businesses -- and when she told Patricia and John, her parents were totally supportive once they realised she had a plan. "I have a niche -- young graduate artists -- so price points are low," confirms Katie, while Patricia adds: "It's very much Katie's gallery. She picked all the artists herself and I'm delighted she has that self-confidence."

Katie mounts monthly exhibitions for her stable, which includes both young Irish and British artists. The works sell from around €200 up to €800. "The standard is really high. I got about 500 submissions and I took on 12 artists at first. I've since added four more," Katie says.

Finding a space was a problem and she eventually found one in Donnybrook, opposite Kielys pub. "It used to be a gym and it was relatively cheap to get up and running. We painted everything white," Katie explains. It's the perfect colour for showing off art and it's the one used throughout their stylish home, something of a gallery itself, given the huge collection Patricia has amassed.

The family bought the two-storey-over-garden-level house -- renovated in a very contemporary style -- eight years ago. Initially, Patricia had wanted a rundown place to renovate but came to see this one, even though it had already been done up, on Irish Times Property Editor Orna Mulcahy's recommendation. "Katie and I saw it together and we both immediately fell in love. It was perfect, everything done as we'd have done it ourselves," recalls Patricia. The house comprises four bedrooms, five bathrooms -- "and not one bath" -- and two elegant reception rooms, but the open-plan kitchen/living/dining extension at garden level is where most of the living is done. It's full of light -- the windows on the glass roof open electronically and it's made up of several chill-out areas. These include the dining area and a great sunroom-type space overlooking the garden complete with deck, pond and bridge, while the centre focuses on being a kitchen. The house had been owned by a professional chef and so, even eight years on, it's still quite cutting edge with a built-in wok and barbecue.

While they have some lovely furnishings, including Rolf Benz seating and units and coffee tables made by Dutch craftsman Jan Watte, they are kept to a minimum in order to give maximum exposure to the art.

It's not the only thing the two women have in common. They share two other passions -- bags and shoes, and both wear the same size. "It works great for Katie, but when I try and borrow anything, that's a different story," Patricia reveals while Katie laughs. Some mother/daughter dilemmas are universal.



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