Prolific artist Steve Keene embodies a DIY rock-n-roll attitude, having painted over 300,000 tracks, including iconic album covers from Pavement’s ‘Wowie Zowie’ or Band of Horses’ ‘Why are You Okay’. His distinctive style and technique led him to be described as the “Picasso of the assembly line” by Time Magazine. Keene has a democratic approach to art and has been known to give away his paintings or sell them for as little as two dollars in an effort to bring art to the people.
Longtime friend and fan Daniel Efram has spent the past six years compiling a photographic collection of Keene’s work. Through the support of Keene lovers around the world, Efram has now created the ‘Steve Keene Art Book’, a collection of images and stories celebrating the extremely unique world of Steve Keene. Both the artist and producer joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes via Zoom for a discussion about the impact of Keene’s philosophy and his extensive body of work.
Highlights of the interview:
How, as DJs in the 90s, Steve and his wife found a perfect art audience:
“We loved new music – we were older than a lot of students, so we played a lot of old music and mixed it with the new music at the time, which was Nirvana at the time… and just to be in a basement, surrounded by tens of thousands of albums. And every album was somebody’s dream, that it would be the best album or a record of how they lived that year,” Keene recalls.
He continued, “I’ve always loved people making homemade books, little fanzines to promote their writing or their music, and this was before people had websites. Nobody had a computer at home, really. And I just connected with the idea, “Well, how come art doesn’t look fun like this?” I went to art school, did all the right things, and loved making art, but I didn’t know how to connect, get an audience, or what kind of people would want my work. So I threw all those things away and decided not to even think of myself as an artist, but as a person who makes information. small pieces of information circulating in the world.”
Regarding the evaluation of the process as well as the final work:
“I like to paint multiples of the same image, almost like making prints. So I list the amount I’m going to paint for that day or that week, depending on the space I have, and I’ll basically do about 40 or 50 a day,” Keene said. “Then I line up all the panels in a logical order and start with the first color. It can be blue, and I just put my blue point on all the tables. Then I go back with the other colors and, I start with big brushes and go to smaller and smaller, more detailed ones, and then at the end, I sign my name or write a few words.”
Keene continued, “I’ve always liked the American art of the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, where it’s either minimalism or things like Jackson Pollock, when, I mean, he felt like he was in his paintings when he was creating them. He felt that there was no separation between him and the work. It became a performance… In addition to the musical ideas, I also think a lot about the kind of abstract expressionist ideas of ‘becoming’ in the painting.”
On the possibly impossible task of a complete Keene collection:
“I mean, it’s impossible to cover all his work. It’s crazy, actually,” Ephram said. “But I’ve tried to give as broad a spectrum as possible of what’s out there, representing from every decade working and doing the best I can. And really, this is a big book, and I’m really proud of it. But it cannot represent his life’s work. It’s just not that. I think Steve said this before, and I love that – it’s a “greatest hit”. Like an album or a music artist, it’s the ‘greatest hits…’ but it doesn’t mean they’re the only hits.’
“The Steve Keene Art Book” is out now and available for purchase at https://hatandbeard.com/products/the-steve-keene-art-book.