Whether you had been part of the indie rock scene within the ’90s or are only a fan of the basic music that got here out of the fertile indie underground, you’ve virtually actually come throughout the artwork of Steve Keene. The Virginia-born, Brooklyn-based painter created indelible album covers, posters, stage props, promo supplies and extra for bands like Pavement, Silver Jews, The Apples in stereo, the Klezmatics and extra. Beyond that, he’s created fairly actually a whole bunch of 1000’s of artwork items by his personal hand which are in properties and document shops throughout the globe.
“[Andy] Warhol wanted to be a machine, [Jean-Michel] Basquiat made thousands of pieces very quickly — all that is wonderful, those guys produced massive amounts of work – but Steve has made more than them both combined,” says Daniel Efram, a photographer/producer who, alongside Amanda and Shepard Fairey, curated an exhibit spotlighting Keene in 2016. “He’s made over 300,000 pieces from his own hands. He’s a one-man art factory. History needs to be set straight about this issue.”
Enter The Steve Keene Art Book, a vinyl-LP sized tome produced by Efram that comes out June 14 through Hat & Beard and Tractor Beam. Inspired by the massive success of the Keene exhibit on the Faireys’ Subliminal Projects gallery, Efram – who nonetheless has his toes within the indie music scene because the supervisor of The Apples in stereo – determined it was excessive time for a e book devoted to the wildly prolific artist. And in a DIY vogue befitting a painter who has all the time made some extent to create inexpensive artwork by his personal hand, Efram turned to a Kickstarter funding marketing campaign in addition to social media, asking followers to tag their items “#SKartBook” on Instagram so as to monitor down items in folks’s properties that span Keene’s decades-long profession.
“They’re vibrant, colorful and thought-provoking and sometimes very humorous,” says Efram of Keene’s items, citing a bust of Richard Nixon with the phrases “we saw Beck at Knitting Factory” on it as a private favourite. “There’s a seven-month wait to get his pieces online. How much joy has he spread with these 300,000 pieces? He’s a major figure in American art history.”
Keene’s best-known piece is perhaps the album cowl artwork for Pavement’s 1995 basic Wowee Zowee; moreover, again within the ’90s, Matador’s Christina Zafiris commissioned Keene to create 100 three-to-five-foot-tall wooden timber to ship to stores as a promotional merchandise for Stephen Malkmus & firm. “These trees are still being used 25 years later in record stores,” says Efram. “[They have] staying power and a utilitarian purpose. They’re not only flashy, fun and represent a band that’s cool, but they’re good for hanging your coat on. I think Steve would appreciate the idea of people hanging their coats on his stuff.”
The Steve Keene Art Book, edited by chickfactor editor-in-chief Gail O’Hara and designed by Henry Owings, additionally options essays from a wide range of folks in Keene’s orbit through the years, together with the aforementioned Zafiris, Hilarie Bratset, Sam Brumbaugh, Elle Chang, Efram, Shepard Fairey, Karen Loew and Ryan McGinness, plus quotes from Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and Will Oldham (Bonnie “Prince” Billy), amongst others.
Ahead of its launch, journalist Karen Loew shares a portion of her essay “More Than You Asked For: Color & Joy for the People,” which is featured within the upcoming The Steve Keene Art Book, with Billboard. Read it beneath and pre-order right here.
In the mid-Nineties, Keene’s work started spreading nicely past Virginia. Some of his work grew to become the very factor that had fascinated him: album covers. Silver Jews launched The Arizona Record in 1993, with western motifs by Keene on the quilt. In 1995, The Apples in stereo launched their first studio album, Fun Trick Noisemaker, with Keene’s exuberant work on the quilt in addition to inside; Keene had despatched them so many prospects to select from that they chose a number of. Pavement’s third studio album, Wowee Zowee, got here out the identical 12 months, with an enigmatic but memorable Keene cowl (primarily based on a photograph of two Arab ladies in burkas and a goat from a 1972 Life publication known as The Arab World).
By then Steve and Star Keene had moved from Charlottesville to New York City. Their mates in bands additionally migrated to the realm. Pavement drummer Steve West and his spouse lived in the identical loft constructing on North eleventh Street in Brooklyn because the Keenes, when Williamsburg was simply being “discovered” and artists moved into warehouses to dwell cheaply, with loads of area to create. The constructing was owned by Tim Nye, who based the Threadwaxing Space, a downtown Manhattan efficiency spot and gallery. Malkmus, Nastanovich and Berman lived throughout the Hudson in Hoboken. Keene started displaying his work on the Threadwaxing Space’s enormous loft on decrease Broadway. One night when Dan Efram, this e book’s creator, went to see a band there, he skilled Keene’s paintings in individual for the primary time. There had been dozens upon dozens of work overlaying an whole wall up to the ceiling. There was a wheelbarrow that Keene used to transport his work, and a field set out to accumulate funds: $2 or $5 advised per piece, or pay what you want. Efram was astounded by the scene. “I chose three small pieces, and put ten bucks in his pay-what-you-want box, and left,” he recalled. “The first time I saw it, my mind was blown. I don’t know if I even connected the Silver Jews, Pavement or The Apples in stereo to him at that point.”
Over the subsequent 20 years, Efram would work with Keene on quite a few initiatives. They embrace albums by the Klezmatics, The Apples in stereo, whom he manages, and diverse initiatives by Apples frontman Robert Schneider, resembling Marbles and Ulysses. These had been alongside the artist’s many commissions from across the rock world, resembling work in honor of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ 2011 launch of Mirror Traffic, given as premiums by Matador Records. New York PR corporations like Girlie Action and Nasty Little Man commissioned SK work as vacation greeting playing cards. Keene created assorted merchandise for the Dave Matthews Band (which additionally hailed from Charlottesville within the ’90s). He made 2,000 multiples for Capitol Records to use as social gathering favors. And he created a limited-edition cowl for the Band of Horses’ 2016 launch, Why Are You OK. The 2020 tv remake of High Fidelity (primarily based on the novel by Nick Hornby) options glimpses of Keene’s work on the collaged partitions of the document retailer. And a Keene portray is seen on a wall in the home the place his previous buddy David Berman filmed the video for the Purple Mountains track “Darkness and Cold,” launched shortly earlier than the singer-songwriter-poet’s loss of life in August 2019. Keene’s distinctive work had develop into important indie-rock wallpaper of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
“I don’t think you can separate Steve from music. It’s so important to him,” says Eric Allen, bassist for The Apples in stereo. Before Allen joined, when the band was between bassists, Keene mimed taking part in bass within the Apples’ video for “Tidal Wave,” as well as to portray backgrounds and props for the shoot. “He doesn’t play a musical instrument, he plays paint. And he considers what he does a performance, even if no one’s watching,” Allen says.
The “album art tributes” that make up a lot of this e book exhibit that significance. Keene paints well-known covers, and covers of albums he likes, in addition to covers that don’t have any specific that means to him aside from being an creative problem. “I’m making kind of a history of albums,” Keene says. “They’re monuments to something that doesn’t exist anymore.” That one thing is album covers as important talismans, harking again to a time when deciding on an album at a document retailer was a thrill, an train of style, a ceremony of passage.
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Looking at certainly one of Keene’s Rolling Stones cowl tributes, Efram describes a number of the qualities of the work that talk to him. “Here are the Rolling Stones, and Steve loves the Rolling Stones, and he’s painted them in caricature. I totally get who they are, but there’s something about it: He’s added his own hand, his own personality, to the Stones. There’s an inexplicable dimension added—a dimension of humanity that radiates joy.”
“The work is very confident and charming,” Efram says. “He takes his work very seriously, but there’s also an undeniable sense of humor. It’s absurd that he’s chosen to make dozens of pieces a day in this particular way. It’s physically and emotionally demanding to create this much work every day for 30 years. It’s still astounding to me: He truly is a one-man art factory. How can any one person paint all of this by hand? There’s a charm that he continues to create with the same volume and consistency, eliciting the same types of reactions after all of this time.”
Keene additionally paints portraits of assorted musicians—Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Otis Redding—as multiples. After Billie Eilish swept the 2020 Grammys, he painted the teenage singer-songwriter in her green-haired section. He’s additionally painted pop star Katy Perry, and even took his daughters to her live performance. He used to pay attention to rock whereas portray, however in recent times his accompaniment is classical music; he just lately painted the covers of a number of albums of orchestral music composed by Igor Stravinsky.
“I remember when I first met him, he told me that his goal was to be the Johnny Appleseed of art,” says The Apples in stereo chief Robert Schneider. “Johnny Appleseed went around the country, in mythology, spreading apple seeds. Steve wanted to go around spreading art so that anybody could have it, anybody could have this great work of art on their walls or in their shops or in their studios and in their dorm rooms.”
“I always thought that being ‘the Johnny Appleseed of art’ was a really good description,” Schneider says. “Because it really is like that. You can go around the country, around the world, every record store, every thrift store, every little used clothing shop you go into, every bookstore, every used bookstore, somewhere in there, there’s a Steve Keene painting. Maybe it’s leaning in the back of the store, or it’s displayed prominently at the front counter, or maybe it’s in the bathroom. I mean, all over the country, when I go to shops, I see Steve Keene art. I’ve seen it in Europe. I’ve seen it in Taiwan. I’ve seen Steve Keene art all over the world. He’s throwing these seeds out, these paintings, they’re flying out over the wind and they end up at the farthest place from Brooklyn, New York.”