Rock fans — especially those who follow Charlottesville-related bands — know artist Steve Keene for his memorable album cover and creative collaborations with Pavement, Will Oldham, The Apples in Stereo, David Berman and The Silver Jews. , to name a few.
Art lovers know him for a batch creative process that produces hundreds of unique paintings a week, and for a generous mail-order philosophy that allows people to become art collectors without shelling out gallery prices of fancy. His output of over 300,000 original works makes him one of the most prolific artists of all time.
And now book fans can meet him as the subject of the first art book to document his colorful journey.
“The Steve Keene Art Book” gives fans of the hugely prolific painter the opportunity to glimpse the breadth of his oeuvre by seeing so many of his creations in one place. It’s also filled with essays from artists and musicians Keene has worked with over the years, including Shepard Fairey, Chan Marshall of Cat Power, Oldham, and members of Superchunk.
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A well-received exhibition of Keene’s art in Los Angeles, “#SKartShowLA,” ended August 12 at the Palm Grove Social. This was Keene’s first Los Angeles exhibition since 2016’s “Modular Synthesis” at Fairey’s Subliminal Projects gallery, in which 550 paintings were captured on opening night. After that 2016 exhibition, which drew lines of visitors that stretched across the block, producer Daniel Efram knew he had to create an art book to document the artist, perspectives and phenomenon for ages.
“It’s a real beast,” Efram said of the 264-page hardcover book. “There is no way to contain 300,000 coins.”
It took him about six years to get the tome into the hands of fans. Printed in Bosnia and going on sale June 14, the book is packed with images of 227 paintings, many in the hands of private collectors who have never been shown before, and essays by collaborating artists and musicians. who share the facets of a painter who does not seek the star for himself.
“It’s about an artist fully aware of the art world, but choosing his own path,” Efram said. “It really comes down to a punk-rock philosophy. It shatters what we think of the art world.
Keene has an equally easy way of sharing his art with collectors. Orders placed on its website are fulfilled by the artist himself.
“He chooses the coins you get. In that case, he arranges for you,” Efram said. “It’s a totally different value system.”
Capturing all of Keene’s oeuvre in one volume is quite a quest, as Keene is renowned for being prolific. Four days a week, he creates paintings in batches of 50 at a time.
Keene cuts the wood into panels, drills holes and strings them using wires to his custom chain-link easel arrangement, then begins the process of creating 50 paintings at a time. A color will be added to all the surfaces that need it, then another will be applied in turn as the previous colors dry.
Despite what may seem like mass production techniques to some observers, no two paintings are the same.
“He started out as a screen printer, so he layers the paints,” Efram said. “The whole process is very organic. He trained as a screen printer, so he applies these techniques to his work.
Efram dove into producing the time-consuming book project out of pure love for Keene’s work – and for his democratizing impact. Keene fans appreciate not only the paintings themselves, but also the fact that the artist himself selected the works to be sent. Affordable prices have allowed people who previously thought art collecting was a pastime for the wealthy to own original works and accumulate their own collections over time.
Collectors buy their coins without seeing them, trusting Keene to send something they will treasure.
“There’s something beautiful about people following this,” Efram said. “It’s different from the relationship when you’re buying from a gallery and choosing the pieces.”
Efram sees the book as a project that chose him.
“His works bring me such joy. That’s why I did this,” Efram said. “I’m just telling a story that exists. I wanted there to be a historical record of it. I don’t think to say anything new Someone has to step in and tell the story first.
“I wanted to tell this story in a very broad setting. With the breadth and scope of her work, there is always something new to learn. You can’t learn everything. You can not.
The minute “The Steve Keene Art Book” lands in the hands of a fan, one thing is clear: despite its vast scope, this labor of love documents a simple moment in the life of an artist who never his successes.
“He still does 200 paintings a week,” Efram said.