Prolific artist Steve Keene shares his unique process in a new art book produced by Daniel Efram – WABE

Prolific artist Steve Keene shares his unique process in a new art book produced by Daniel Efram – WABE

Prolific artist Steve Keene embodies a do-it-yourself rock-n-roll attitude, having painted over 300,000 works, including the iconic album covers of Pavement’s “Wowie Zowie” or Band of Horses’ “Why are You Okay.” . His distinctive style and technique have led to being dubbed a “conveyor-line Picasso” 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 to bring art to people.

Longtime friend and fan Daniel Efram has spent the last six years compiling a photographic collection of Keene’s work. Now, with the support of Keene lovers worldwide, Efram has produced The Steve Keene Art Book, a collection of images and stories celebrating the unique world of Steve Keene. Both the artist and producer joined City Lights Senior Producer Kim Drobes via Zoom for a chat about the impact of Keene’s philosophy and his far-reaching body of work.

Interview Highlights:

How Steve and his wife found perfect art audiences as DJs in the ’90s:

“We loved the new music – we were older than a lot of the students, so we played a lot of old music and combined it with the then new music that was then Nirvana… and just being in a basement surrounded by tens of thousands of albums. And every album was someone’s dream that it was going to be the greatest album or a record of how they lived for that year,” Keene recalled.

He continued, “I’ve always loved it when people made homemade books, little fanzines to promote their writing or their music, and that was before people had websites. Nobody really had a computer at home. And I just connected with the idea, ‘Well, how come art doesn’t seem like this fun?’ I went to art school, I did everything right, and I loved making art, but I didn’t really know how I was going to connect, have an audience, or what kind of people would like my work. So I just threw all that stuff away and decided to not even see myself as an artist but as a person making information; little bits of information that get out into the world.”

To appreciate the process as much as the finished work:

“I love painting the same picture multiple times, almost like making prints. So I plan out the amount I’m going to paint for that day or week depending on how much space I have, and basically I do about 40 or 50 a day,” Keene said. “Then I arrange all the panels in a logical order, starting with the first color. It could be blue and I just put my bruise on all the pics. Then I go back with the other colors and start with big brushes and end up with smaller and smaller, more detailed brushes and end up signing my name or writing a few words.”

Keene continued, “I’ve always loved the American art of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, where it was either minimalism or things like Jackson Pollock when he, I mean, he felt like he was in his paintings when he was them created. He felt that there was no separation between himself and work. It turned into a performance… Aside from musical ideas, I think a lot about the kind of abstract expressionist ideas about how to ‘go into’ painting.”

On the potentially impossible task of a comprehensive Keene collection:

“I mean, it’s impossible to cover all of his work. It’s actually crazy,” Efram said. “But I’ve tried to present as broad a spectrum of what’s out there as possible and to represent from every decade that he’s worked and done my best. And really, this is a great book and I’m really proud of it. But it cannot represent his life’s work. It just isn’t. I think Steve said that before and I like that – it’s a Greatest Hits. Like an album or a music artist, it’s a ‘Greatest Hits…’ but that doesn’t mean those are the only hits.”

The Steve Keene Art Book is available now and is available at

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