5 Surprising Facts From ‘Foundations’ Magazine’s Exclusive Lisa Frank Interview

Did you know Peter Max is a Lisa Frank fan?

Photo: Lisa Frank.

If you were a little girl in the ’80s and ’90s, or perhaps just knew a little girl in the ’80s and ’90s, then it’s likely you’re familiar with Lisa Frank.

The artist is known for her Day-Glo depictions of puppies, kitties, ponies and other flora and fauna that adorned the backpacks, lunchboxes, and school supplies of millions of preteens throughout America, expressing a kind of proto-psychedelic sensibility that defined a generation. After a brief hiatus in the mid-2000s, Frank’s eye-popping products are back in stores and continue to sell today.

While the brand’s iconography is well-known, the woman behind it remains notoriously cagey, even prompting an Jezebel exposé in 2013. But the artist granted a rare interview to Foundations magazine, a biannual arts publication run by artists and curators. The magazine will hit the stands at MoMA PS1’s New York Art Book Fair on September 19, and you’ll be able to pick it up at venues like New York’s McNally Jackson bookstore, the MOCA Los Angeles store, and Kunsthalle Wien. You can also read the full interview online now.

Here are some of our favorite facts:

1. Frank’s senior art show at Detroit’s prestigious Cranbrook Kingswood High School completely sold out:  “They were up on the wall, I sold out, and received a ton of commissions. Lee Iacocca, former president of Chrysler, bought a painting… My dad wouldn’t have eventually cut me off if he didn’t know I had all of those commissions. I lived on those earnings forever. When I was in high school he was paying for all my materials. When I got the commissions he said, “You’re paying for all the supplies.”

2. Her father was an art collector: “Definitely the [Cranbrook ] teachers [were an inspiration], but also Jasper Johns, and other artists in my dad’s collection… My dad had Joseph (sic) Albers, Richard Anuszkiewicz, and Jean Arp. He collected art…When he died, Art in America was 8 feet tall in his bathroom and in his office.”

An early Lisa Frank painting. Photo: Carly Mark/Courtesy Foundations.

An early Lisa Frank painting.
Photo: Carly Mark/Courtesy Foundations.

3. Frank claims to have invented leopard print underwear: “I see something and I’ll shelve it in my brain, but my timing is off. I’ve always been ahead of the game. I was making leopard underwear thirty years ago. Literally rainbow leopard underwear. People thought I was a kook. It didn’t sell! It was so new. When we started this business everything made for a consumer was solid colors.”

4. Peter Max is a fan: “Guys like Peter Max would come to Detroit and then they would have a show at the Detroit Institute of Arts. My dad would bring home a signed poster. I have my original Peter Max poster he brought home that was signed by Peter himself. I’m now told that Peter is a huge fan of mine.”

5. Frank didn’t initially want to paint fanciful critters: “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.”

You can preorder Issue 3 of Foundations here.

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