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Katherine Ace : Artist You Should Know

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The “Artist You Should Know” series highlights artists before they exhibit their work somewhere awesome.  In this case we saw Katherine’s work at Art Market in SF, and we liked it so much we simply had to find out more about her.  Meet Portland-based artist Katherine Ace, an artist you should know.

Katherine Ace, Girl’s Brunch. 5’x6′. Oil on canvas.

Artist:  Katherine Ace

Medium(s):  Oil on canvas. Alkyd and oil on canvas and board. Alkyd and paper and tiny objects on canvas and board. Whatever else is handy in my studio, home or kitchen.

Artist Katherine Ace

What was your first job?

My first, first job was every Sunday when I was in 8th grade cleaning a beauty parlor in the 60s. Beehives were popular so cleaning that hairspray was rather difficult. They would lock me into the salon for 6 hours to do my work. Second job was a waitress at Dino’s. I was 15 and lied to make Dino think I was 16. First art job was at 20 doing charcoal portraits on Jackson Square in New Orleans. I took a year off of school and lived in NO doing that, working in a gallery too, and at night waitressing and cocktail waitressing. Learned a lot about drawing from those great portrait artists who worked ‘the circuit’ – New Orleans and Nice France.

I’m a sophisticated graduate with a BFA or FUCK art school!

For me, personally, neither. But for others it works. I got a BA and could have gone to grad school in 1975. My grandfather offered to pay for it (he was big on getting degrees what looked like credentials). So I went to visit Cranbrook near Detroit (‘m originally from Chicago). I spoke with the painting professor there (can’t remember his name, started with an “O”) and he made it clear to me that I, as a girl, could only be 1) his personal cheerleader or 2) his sex toy or 3) or both. I quit being a wannabe ‘fine’ artist and moved around doing lots of odd jobs and anything I could do that got me drawing or painting. I willingly ‘sold out’ and did commercial art but never gave up my studio time which I had done since the age of 14, on my own, with oil paints. In the 90s in Portland the fine arts found me. I thought I was unworthy.

John Braseth with Willie Brown in front of Katherine Ace wall of portraits at Art Market SF. April 2018

Some friends and I saw a whole wall of your work at SF Art Market this April, there were some 20 portraits of a woman. And we spent more time looking at those portraits than anything else at the fair. And we laughed really hard at the angry cat one. Were some of these meant to make us laugh or are we just too dense to see what’s going on here?

I’m delighted you laughed!! Thank you! And thank you to John Braseth for taking them to the fair!

I find I can take in information when I’m laughing, sighing, nearly in tears, or playing. Look at little children – that is how they/we learn. My holy trinity is 1) creation spirit = creative exploration/play 2) curiosity and 3) love.


The angry cat painting is titled “The Talking To’’ and has a women with a pissed off and aggressively frustrated cat on one shoulder and a loudly tweeting bird above her other shoulder. My work is always ‘so damned deeply personal that it’s universal’ so that always means a political subtext. Politics are both internal – our internal dramas and arguments, and external – our politics. Anyone paying attention to politics these days will get the hit from this painting that — we all need a good talking to! —> “Save the planet! WTF are you voting on! You know, we can see your crony capitalism because of our current state of great (-legit-) journalism so cut it out now!” <—. For me, those are some of the things the bird is loudly screaming into the woman’s ear and the cat is just digging in. What will that woman do??

Does sophisticated art have to be ‘humorless’?


Ace, is that your real name?

Yes, it’s a name I married into (no Ace Hardware $$ tho just a phonetically Americanized german name). That marriage lasted 20 years but I kept the name. My maiden name was “Zerfoss” which means ‘big beer barrel’ so I didn’t want to go back to that, and I’d been playing around with other last names, one a married name, and a couple others between marriages. So I went from Z to A with a couple of detours thru C.

What was your last great night out in San Francisco? How About Portland?

My last great night out near SF was giving birth to my daughter. Well, it was sort of great, except for the 44 hour labor which stalled in transition. After 10 hours of that, when dry heaving got too much they gave me Pitocin and that was that. Two hours later, the first moment I looked at that baby, she was still connected to me with the umbilical cord, and it was in a darkened room, and she had a bunch of blood on her head which made her look like she had a mass of black hair. My first thought was “that baby looks Latina….someone made a mistake!”. My next thought was “that was the stupidest thought I’ve ever had!!”. Then I started laughing at myself which probably came off as sort of nuts. But when she was put into my arms and our eyes met….well that was a night.

In PDX, it was this afternoon having coffee with a young woman who is a ‘color designer’ for Under Armor who I just met. We had a blast and lots of art talk! We discovered that her Haitian grandfather had gone to medical school with my Jamaican best-in-town breast cancer surgeon. The surgeon is her home-away-from home adopted mom. I offered to be her home-away-from home Auntie and she adopted me. It is going to be such a blessing to watch her career progress. She is only 26 now!

Katherine Ace.  Cinderella (“FEAST” third in series) oil/alkyd on canvas with paper and video

Are you a Carl Jung fan by any chance? Does ‘myth’ ever enter into your painting?

Complicated answer so I’ll try to keep it short. I was born loving creative stories so became rather obsessed with Greek myths in 7-8th grade. I’m rather dyslexic so straight line seeing and thinking are not something I can quite do. So ‘myth’ is part of my DNA vocabulary.

Never read Carl Jung but I read Marie Louise von Franz voraciously in the 90s. 15 years later, in 2013, I had my most productive year ever. Apparently I had digested von Franz and started a Grimm’s series working 13-16 hours a day, EVERY day for that year. Just couldn’t help it. My friends understood that I had ‘gone recluse’ again.

Katherine Ace. MILLER’S DRUDGE AND THE CAT Oil/alkyd, paper

If you can only paint one subject for the rest of your life, what/who would it be?

Hmmmm…. it would be figures in a room with a window, with stuff seen thru the window, and stuff on a table, and maybe a few animals and insects. With maybe some other stuff too. Maybe something cooking. Maybe the formerly degraded ‘women’s arts’ like tatting, quilting, home cooking etc etc etc. Not sure what you mean?

Katerine Ace. UNEXPECTED HELPERS, 2015

Any artists you think are outstanding right now?

I have very peculiar taste in art. I love looking at pretty much everything – especially if I look close and can see the hand of the artist. That said, I drink the spiritual fluid I get from a painting and some brilliant paintings (technically or conceptually or whatever) taste poorly to me. They taste like too much or too little ego, fear, shame and/or overcompensation. But there are several local artists who I love to drink from.

Sharon Bronzan (who’s father is the namesake of that stadium in San Jose) and who is a personal friend. I get to see her work in progress and spend time in her tiny but beautiful studio. I get wonderful hits from her quiet, usually overlooked work.


And Morgan Walker who is also a local painter. The last show I saw of his I burst out laughing so hard I was nearly crying. His work is odd, personal, with a great not-obvious-on-first-blush political subtext. Also personal.

Morgan Walker. Family Farm . Augen Gallery

What’s the coolest gallery right now?

My galleries, natch. But for general cool, I’d say depends on the artist or the gallery. Things are changing. Galleries are still the way that most of us older artists make a living (I’m now officially a senior citizen), but they need to be flexible and change with the times. The younger artists no longer have that ‘commercial’ vs. ‘fine’ arts prejudice. And I say good riddance! Many younger artists are making a good living doing online sales. Doesn’t work for me – my prices are too high, tho I try to keep them as low as possible. Have to be high enough to merit a gallery wall ‘real estate’ needs $$.

So I would say that Froelick Gallery just re-did their website and worked on it for a year. Old collectors have made most of their art buys already and their walls are filled. New potential collectors see an artist online and google where that artist shows and may say to themselves “Oh, Portland, I’m going to be there in three months for a vacation or conference – I’m going to check out that gallery”. And say they are from NYC then my prices (or any PDX artists’ prices) will look extremely damn good. Hopefully. It’s very tricky right now for us older artists! I’m lucky my daughter understands tech and is willing to talk to me about it!

What does it take to make it as an artist in Portland these days?

I have no idea. But I CAN tell you what makes an artist last as an artist throughout an entire lifetime career and that is —> passion, wanting to talk to others visually, and tenacity.

What’s coming up for you?

I’ve started a new series called “Famous Couples”. Will be sets of two 20”x16” paintings of whatever couple comes to mind. I’ve started on the first set which will be called “Magic Rocks” and is of Cleopatra and Marc Antony – as marble statues adorned with paintings of rocks and some real stones too. They will be wearing pendants of small earth-like globes depicting the Egyptian and Roman empires. I love rocks and have a rock collection.

I also am planning a large 2-canvas painting (6’x~12’) of a group portrait of women artists of a certain age in Portland. We have paid our dues and have worked thru very unfriendly climates to women artists. My scaffolding is all ready to go since I now need to sit to paint.

And I’m planning to do my 4th table in a series called “Four Tables” started in 2003 and intended to go over 20 years. I just finished the 3rd table and just have to get started on the 4th. The composition has been slowly (since about 2 months ago when the image first flashed to me) while driving, or whenever. It will get worked out, I would guess in about 6 more weeks, then I can start sketching and gathering pics of elements.

Cleaning and cooking and gardening. Can do all of them once again so that makes me happy but makes my muscles sore.

For more Ace Checkout:

Katherine Ace Website

Katherine Ace on Facebook

Katherine Ace Self Portrait Somewhere Else. 5’x7′. Alkyd, oil, and MM on canvas.
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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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