Lone Hansen met Kathe Fraga when they both had galleries – Art Soup and Gallery Fraga. Beyond galleries, they shared another bond. They both had white dogs named Poco and Sofie, and they were great friends. Lone also used to host for Gallery Fraga during the Art Walk when Kathe and her husband, Jeff, were out of town. “That’s when I first saw her paintings and I thought they were amazing.”
Here are excerpts from Lone Hansen’s captivating discussion with painter, Kathe Fraga, at Lone’s studio apartment in Poulsbo. Some wording and order has been revised to provide further clarity.
Lone Hansen: How did you fare during the pandemic?
Kathe Fraga: It’s been fantastic with my painting. I’ve had a number of commissions. My work is selling and I think it’s because people love the work – which I’m really grateful for. Also, most people are not traveling or going out to restaurants. They’re at home and looking at that blank wall… Maybe they’ve been thinking for a long time about what to do with it. It’s been a great time for me. I’m very grateful.
LH: When did you start creating art?
KF: Well, I like to say that I’ve been doing art all my life. I’ve always been creating something. I come from a long line of women who create – my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother were all crocheters, knitters, quilters, and they all love color. I always loved color and creating.
LH: What was your first art project?
KF: I got into trouble for it! I was about 5-years-old. It was my first exploration with paper mache. I was in the bathtub and I saw a box of Kleenex and thought it would be fun to create a tiny doll with one Kleenex. Before I knew it I had a whole army of little people. My mom came in (she was a nurse) and was horrified! So I really got into trouble and my punishment was, “No gum balls for a week!”
LH: Big punishment!
KF: I still have my little box of green colored pencils. We moved a lot because my dad was in the navy. We lived on both coasts, South America, Europe – my little box and drawing helped me cope with new environments.
LH: How did you come up with the idea of the paintings you’re doing now?
KF: My work is based on vintage floral French wallpaper with a modern twist. Growing up my dad would travel to Japan for work. When he would come home he’d bring presents. I was so mesmerized by the colors and patterns. He brought back a doll, jewelry with Japanese symbols, and he brought home for my mother a dark green silk jacket that had red flowers and orange [with] cream sleeves. Mom never wore that jacket and finally she gave it to me. I wear it at Christmas; I wear it at openings. I think it sparked something in me – the florals, the birds, and the stories the images tell.
LH: It’s so unusual what you do and it’s beautiful. How did you manage to put that together?
KF: When I first moved to Bainbridge I was making paper mache dogs and cats. I was getting commissions for creating people’s dogs. When I moved here I made an appointment at Bainbridge Arts & Crafts (BAC) to show my work. Coincidentally, they were just having a dog and cat show – but they were booked. But Mary Jane Greene, who was head of the retail end, suggested I create my work for the front of the house. She gave me my first toe-hold to the art world and I’m very grateful for that.
LH: That began an ongoing relationship?
KF: Yes. One Christmas David Sessions of BAC said, “Why don’t you make a whole bunch of fat, fun mice and I’ll put them in the window.” So I did that for a while.
LH: Did you continue with that work when you opened Gallery Fraga?
KF: When we opened the gallery I had a chance to really study artists – learn about them, go to their studios. To see how people reacted to their work, and that incredible magical joy when someone connects with a piece and they just have to have it. I thought, “I’d like to do that, I’d like to paint.” So, I can’t really tell you the moment it happened but I remember thinking, “That’s what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to try.” So I started experimenting with lots of different styles.
LH: You have colors that are the basis of your paintings?
KF: Yes, I basically choose light blue, light green, yellow, light pink, and sometimes cream in my paintings. Those have always been my colors. We had a show at Gallery Fraga – our fifth year anniversary. I introduced my pieces at that show. I was able to slowly introduce my work into this group show and get a reaction. I remember being there after the opening and someone went running to her friend and said, “You have to see this. You have to see this!” And it was that magical feeling.
LH: My reaction was, this is Kathe! Wow! This is fantastic. And I thought, was she in Paris?
KF: I think all those influences of living in South America with the beauty and the old decay. The colors of Europe where pink is such a popular building color; the bright reds and yellows of Denmark. All those kinds of things filtered into my paintings and my work. It’s just all of those experiences.
LH: What’s your process?
KF: You don’t sit down and think, I’m going to put a red flower here, and a pink flower over here… You start painting and go into that space of what flows, what feels good. That’s where the magic happens. You look at something after you’ve created it and think, “I really like that.” I like those red flowers over there and the pink…. But then there’s that little voice that says, “No, no, come on. Don’t fall in love with this. You know where you’re going.” It takes that act of courage to take that paintbrush and maybe paint a blue swath over the whole thing. But then it’s so exciting when it dries and you can see a shadow of the red come through. That’s the hardest area to get to… To be able to take that next step. But that’s where the reward is. Let it go, let it go. Just do it and see what happens. You can always paint it over!
LH: I saw your cards at Flowering Around and thought they were beautiful. Since I follow you on Facebook I’m aware of the beautiful scarves and pillows.
KF: Ashley Henry and her mom, Margie, at Flowering Around have always been one of my biggest supporters and encouragers. They have all these ideas and Ashley was the one who said, “I’d really like to have your paintings as cards at Flowering Around.” So she got me started. I’m still showing my cards to this day. Then she and her mom said, “You know, you should do some pillows with your artwork, it would be beautiful.” So we explored that, got a lot of help. The scarves came up later because I did that collaboration with Japanese make-up company, Cle De Peau Beaute Cosmetics. One of the things they had were two scarves their employees wore during that promotion. I got to see how popular they were so I thought, “We should do scarves.”
LH: Do you have an agent?
KF: Jeff, my husband! He’s the one that makes everything happen. I couldn’t do it without him. He does all the ordering of the birch panels…
LH: You paint on birch panels?
KF: Yes. The way I work is that I use a plaster medium to resemble an old fresco wall. And the birch panel is tough enough to take it – and I sand a lot. So, it really needs to be sturdy because I do a lot of layers.
LH: Do you listen to your intuition when you paint?
KF: I feel the pattern, the flow, how it unfolds. The story. With my paintings I’m always looking for it to tell a story. A story of age, of how decades have gone by. Sometimes I have this scenario in my head like, the panel was really part of a big fresco wall. Somebody cut it away. So often the pattern will go off the edges. Before they saved it, dozens of families had moved into this space. And maybe there was a food fight…. That’s how I think of my paintings – that they’ve been touched by generations of people. That there are all these layers and colors. That’s the story. The other thing is when you look at my paintings close up you’ll see lots of details – a little bird, a butterfly under a layer of paint. But if you step away, as I do in my studio, you see something totally different. You see different colors.
LH: I was told a long time ago that you look at your painting. Step back, turn around, and then you turn around and look at it. Then you see it.
KF: The way I paint, I start painting on the floor. I paint looking over. So, it’s a surprise when I pick up the painting and put it on a chair. I see it for the first time. I then step back.
LH: What’s your medium?
KF: Acrylic, gold leaf, and I use a Japanese gold ink for outlining and a glossy oil glaze to give it that lacquered look.
LH: So you’re having a show coming up on June 4th at Roby King Gallery?
KF: It’ll be part of First Friday.
LH: What’s the theme?
KF: It’s really more about beauty. It’s my work and Helene Wilder. I’m really excited and this was Andrea Roby-King’s suggestion. I usually do large pieces but she said, “Why don’t you do a collection of 20 small pieces?” It’s fun to see a smaller version of a story. They are little tiny stories – little love birds. I’ve done 12×12 before. I usually include at least one of them when I’m doing a show. But I’ve never done 20.
LH: Looking ahead, what do you see?
KF: I’m very excited about my various collaborations with companies.
LH: What’s been one of your favorite collaborative projects?
KF: My first collaboration with companies started with an email from this Japanese company, which owns the Cle De Peau Beaute luxury makeup brand. They wanted to know about my work. Every year their English creative director chooses an artist and bases all the colors off of that artist’s work. Then they have a limited edition holiday roll out. So mine was: ‘Holiday 2017.’ It was shown in Europe, Canada, Russia, and all of the US. It included gigantic backdrops, larger-than-life banners. This was the beginning of the selfie era so people would take pictures and share it on social media. They produced different products including eye color, lipstick, eye crayons, and skin care.
LH: They also produced a video?
KF: They wanted us to fly to California to create a video for [promotion]. We said, “Why don’t you just come to our house?” They said OK. My work was there – pillows, paints, it was perfect. The crew arrived with 30 people. I heard the words that I never thought I’d hear in my life: “Kathe Fraga, you’re wanted on set!” They filmed me painting at the table, we walked outside… They did a great job.
LH: Have you had other successful collaborations?
KF: The Fletcher Bay Winery at Coppertop were looking for labels for their new red wine called, Tara Rouge. And I had a red floral painting with a burgundy swath of paint at the top. And so I told Jeff we should submit it and they took it! Really good wine. My latest one was an email from a publisher in England called Little Brown. They wanted to use one of my paintings for the cover of award-winning poet, Kit Fan’s debut book called, Diamond Hill. They wanted to distress it even more than I had. It’s a turquoise cover with red blossoms. But it has the birch edges. That book has just come out, so it’s been fun to see it roll out.
LH: And Papyrus?
KF: Papyrus contacted me to do a Mother’s Day card based on one of my paintings, which I did. When people first ask you to do these things you think, “I don’t know how to make a card!” And so, I just did it because it’s so much fun.
LH: That’s amazing!
KF: These things happen in the universe. You never know.
LH: How can people reach you?
Visit this page for a list of Kathe Fraga’s other collaborations including being featured on TV shows like, The Office.
SHOWING IN JUNE:
- ROBY KING GALLERY
- 176 WINSLOW WAY E. BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, WA 98110
- WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY 12-5PM SUNDAY12-4PM
OTHER ARTICLES BY LONE:
A Year Later: Chuck Iffland
How Artists are Surviving the Pandemic: Diane Walker
How Artists are Surviving the Pandemic: Diana Cronin
How Artists are Surviving this Pandemic: Victoria Foster Harrison
How Artists are Surviving this Pandemic: Sue Skelly
How Artists are Surviving this Pandemic: Judy Sorrels
How Artists are Surviving this Pandemic: Steve Parmelee
How Artists are Surviving this Pandemic: Diane Haddon
ABOUT LONE HANSEN. Lone is an artist who has owned several galleries in San Francisco, Seattle, and Bainbridge Island. She currently lives in Poulsbo where she is a member of the Poulsbo Arts League. A year later, through her interactions with fellow artists, Lone has been creating art, gaining daily inspiration, cooking, and is taking care of dogs again. “I like this new normal,” she said. “It’s good for me – it is.” Lone has been “downsizing” her entire life – not just her studio, but her “whole life.” “It’s good to remember a life well lived,” she reflected. “Never boring, and it’s got me to where I am today.”