Kathleen Keifer on Playful Art

I haven’t met Kathleen yet, but I feel like I have known her for years. Her husband, Jim, who many of you know, sent a note about featuring her art at our Chicago Toy & Game Fair. Her art is playful and she has created a series on pop art and games that will be exhibited at our Fair! Celebrities including Jack Nicholson, James Cameron and Britney Spears have bought her work. Kathleen and I also share that we and our families attended Notre Dame. In her case, she is 3rd generation, and her grandfather played football under Knute Rockne!


You're famous for painting the beach culture of Southern California. How did you get from there to painting still-lifes of boardgames?

I spent so many long summer nights in the decommissioned lighthouse my great grandfather bought up in Michigan, playing board games. Summer vacation was the only time everyone had the time. I love that my family now is a game playing family. My daughters grew up with half-finished prototypes scattered around since my husband, Jim Keifer, is a board game inventor. It's just one of those things -- we all have such different taste in movies, but all love playing classic board games.

But I think that beach culture and board games are similar. They're about the little moments. I get crazy about the exact orange-pink of a sunset, or the exact way a surfer waxes his board before he goes into the water. Games -- more than anything -- are about tiny, perfect moments. The satisfying checkmate, the moment someone lands on your Park Place hotel, the really clever Scrabble play. I've always thought that a painting is the best way, the only way, to capture a single moment.

I also get seduced by color. I will never get over the pure color in California. The Monopoly mint-green, the honey-gold Scrabble tiles -- they're pure inspiration. Games, just on their own, are beautiful still-lifes.

You can see more of my art on my website, kathleenkeifer.com.

You're a Chicago native?

You bet. Stayed in the Midwest for college too -- majored in fine arts at Notre Dame, where I met Jim. I'm their official painter now. That's fun. It's how I get through the college football off-season.

But now you're in Los Angeles?

Me, Jim and our three young daughters moved to Malibu in 1996. Like Randy Newman, I love LA. It's the cultural capital of the world, anything really can happen. The stories I could tell...

Sorry, have to ask. Any celebrities who buy your art?

[Laughs] Right! Um, let's see. Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, Britney Spears... The best one was Barry Manilow. He had this whole thing about how my palm tree paintings looked the way musical notes sounded. He bought eight -- the way he saw them, they were do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti and do. They're in his recording studio. I've got such a soft spot for palm trees anyway. Little Dr. Seuss lollipops, and (like any true Angeleno) not exactly native.

What would you say your favorite game is?

Monopoly. I love Uncle Pennybags -- he takes walks on the boardwalk all day, goes to see Broadway all night, and his dubious business practices never land him in jail that long. But seriously. There's something fascinating about the response these board games get out of us as adults. There's the tug of childhood and nostalgia, and there's something nice about playing a game with clear rules and clear winners. The only Life that's really like that is the board game.

But there's also something about those bits and pieces, the get-out-of-jail free card or the Monopoly shoe, that's almost mythic. They're evocative, they exist in this dream world, beyond memory, where they mean something... else. I think that's up to all of us to say what exactly that meaning is.