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A Rare Interview with Lisa Frank

FOUNDATIONS Magazine interviews the legend behind the unicorn and rainbow stickers of your childhood.
August 28, 2015, 3:00pm
Photos by Carly Mark / FOUNDATIONS

FOUNDATIONS is a biannual magazine that aims to reclaim the foundational experience of art: experimentation, emerging ideas, and discovery. Started by Marcella Zimmermann and Sebastian Gladstone in New York, the collective now includes an international group of artists and curators. Here Carly Mark, an artist and the magazine’s guest editor, interviews Detroit-native Lisa Frank best known for her rainbow stickers about being an abstract painter. This is the first interview in which she has ever spoken about her fine art past. 

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People say never meet your heroes. With this in mind, I was unsure of how wise it would be to reach out to Lisa Frank, whose mysterious, cult-like reputation is both fascinating and intimidating. Intimidation aside, I could not help but feel it a timely moment to seek out the true story behind this artist and businesswoman who I have deemed godlike since I was young.

FOUNDATIONS: You mentioned the work is abstract?

Lisa Frank: Right, abstract, but you will see where the Lisa Frank colors come from.

Early abstract work, Acrylic on raw canvas.

What type of materials did you use?

All acrylic on Masonite and canvas. I would sometimes use paper on Masonite for texture. Everything was very colorful.

How did you transition from abstraction into commercial art?

In college I had to support myself. So, in the beginning, I went to the Indian reservations. I would sell their art and jewelry. I still have a big Native American art collection because of that fact. Jumping ahead, I would later tell them what to make and realized that everything I told them, versus what they wanted to make on their own, sold. A light bulb went on. I thought, “Oh, I guess I have a really commercial sense.”

At first I didn’t want to do unicorns. The artist in me said no. Then I thought wait a minute this is commercial art. Let’s do what’s going to sell. So that’s how that happened. I then made my own line of jewelry called Sticky Fingers, which was almost Carmen Miranda. I bought plastic fruit, glue guns, and put everything together. It sold so well. I went to gift shows and my orders got so big that I couldn’t represent anyone else. I made a little assembly line in my guesthouse of people putting all of this stuff together for me. When Sticky Fingers took off this was the day of AIDS. No one knew it was even called AIDS. A lot of the reps were gay, all of my friends were dying around me, it was crazy. When I think back it was kind of a sad and scary time.

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Read the Foundations rare interview with Lisa Frank here.

Lisa Frank headquarters

You can pre-order the issue here. FOUNDATIONS will be released at MoMa PS1 during the NYABF Sept. 19.

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