Artist In Residence

The bright, cheery, colorful explosion of dots that characterize artist Frank Oliva’s work seemed like a fitting New Year’s feature, so I asked him and wife Connie, an art history major, if I could take a look at their home, famous with family, friends and neighbors as a playland of creativity. Walking in the door, it’s a sight to behold. Everywhere you glance – every wall, every piece of furniture, the doors, the banisters – has received strokes from Frank’s happy paintbrush.


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A lively Frank Oliva-decorated high chair used by several grandchildren

“Friends and family comment that if they were to come over here and maybe be relaxed for a moment, they might wake up and suddenly see that I’ve painted their arms,” says Frank, with a chuckle.

“It’s true,” chimes in Connie. “You’ve got to keep moving, otherwise Frank will paint you.”

When I first heard about their house, I pictured something a bit hard on the eyes, but to enter their door is to be immersed in a world of practical, found and inherited objects that have all been intriguingly transformed. Most of the couple’s stories start with “I picked this up in Italy,” or in Australia, Alaska, Paris or the former Yugoslavia. There’s a spinning wheel that, with all of its bars and wheel, has been saturated in paint and turned into a quirky, fun lamp base.

Connie gathers odd-shaped canvases, picture frames and various this and thats from her travels and garage sales. Sometimes the objects sit in storage for a while, but eventually they make it to Frank’s open-air workshop on the lanai.

“Whether it’s a bowl or an old chest or something simple, Frank makes it beautiful,” says Connie. “I found these tables at Goodwill, and Franko did his magic. They certainly make a statement.”

You can’t help but get excited when you see the three tables covered in a splash of tiny dots in blue, red, yellow and green brightening up the porch. Many of Frank’s projects are utilitarian. The once-white stairway handrail is a novelty with all its pretty designs that serve double-duty

– no more dirty handprints from grandkids. The tall chairs at the kitchen counter face a wall panel covered in a swirly, fruity fresco – no more visible nicks and dings from the grand-kids’ rambunctious little legs as they sit in the chairs.

Frank paints the house and its furniture for his family’s pleasure, but it’s his canvas paintings that make it to the public’s eye. One two-story wall is covered floor to ceiling in paintings, but none of them stays there long. At the moment, he has 40 works in various venues around his Kailua hometown. He also is represented in galleries around the island, in California and in online exhibits. His art was selected for the highly competitive Artist of Hawaii show at the (former) Academy of Arts, and he’s currently preparing for four juried exhibitions.

Some of the art gracing the walls are by his and Connie’s sisters, brothers, daughters. The whole family seems to be artistic, and they also love claiming their favorites from Frank’s wall. He readily replaces the empty spaces. In addition to original patterns, he’s also made dotted version of famous works: van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Klimt’s “The Kiss,” Picassoesque figures, vivid nature studies inspired by O’Keeffe.

“I kind of hypnotize myself,” says Frank of his singular style painting thousands of dots. Some of his paintings easily boast more than 15,000 dots, and they take an average of 80 hours to complete. It’s clearly something he enjoys, not an escape from the madding world.

For that, he turns to his extensive library. “Most of our library is art books,” he notes. “It soothes the savage breast. When my football team loses, I get out an art book.”

“It is a good thing we have so many art books,” says Connie, “since Frank roots (suffers) for the Detroit Lions, an affliction passed down to his son and grandsons.”

Though I had invited myself over on Christmas Eve and Oliva’s had family in town, for whom Connie was cooking away, and though they were preparing for a trip the day after Christmas, they ushered me in with gusto, and even handed me a steaming mug of hot chocolate. If a home drenched in art makes everyone as warm and vibrant as this couple, we all should invest in some brushes and a rainbow of acrylics. It certainly makes for an enriched and enriching living space.