Steve Keene has created cover artwork for Indie music for over thirty years, and if you’re a fan of Pavement, The Apples in stereo, Silver Jews or Bonnie “Prince” Billy, to start with, you’ve seen his work. The Brooklyn artist is known among music fans for his cheery style as for his everyman prices of just $5 to $10 each. After producing over 300,000 paintings, Keene is a pop culture icon and this June heralds the first published collection of his work: The Steve Keene Art Book.
Though perhaps best-known for his deep ties to the 90s indie rock scene, Keene has chosen to immortalize some of the greatest names in rock/pop music including David Bowie, The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Roxy Music, The Clash, Patti Smith, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and The Beastie Boys. But the heart of his work will always belong to indie rock artists like Pavement, Bonnie Prince Billy, The Arcade Fire, Minor Threat, Husker Du, and Joy Division.
Keene comments: “I consider myself as more of an installation artist. If people see fewer than, like, 800 of my paintings at one time, I think they don’t get it.”
For someone operating outside of the traditional art world, Keene has shown his work at some of its most prestigious galleries, museums and fairs including Frieze New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art (LA), Marlborough Gallery (NY), Museum Goch (Germany), and the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art (Melbourne). The forthcoming book was born from a 2016 exhibition at legendary artist Shepard Fairey’s own Subliminal Projects gallery in Los Angeles.
Daniel Efram, who Produced the book, is a music and media producer and photographer and began working with Keene back in the ’90s after seeing his work at NYC downtown performance space, Threadwaxing Space. He curated Steve Keene’s Brooklyn Experience at the Brooklyn Public Library when Keene was artist-in-residence in 2014. Efram started photographing Keene’s art for the Subliminal Projects show in 2016, and continued cataloging works for the book, including paintings from dozens of personal collections. The book would not have been possible without support from over 600 fans on Kickstarter.
The book features essays by musician Hilarie Bratset (The Apples in stereo), writer Sam Brumbaugh, Elle Chang, Efram, Shepard Fairey, journalist Karen Loew, McGinness and Christina Zafiris, along with comments from Starling Keene, curators Jonathan LeVine, Leo Fitzgerald and Talia Logan, alongside a dazzling 277 of Keene’s works.
The Steve Keene Art Book was designed by Grammy-nominated graphic designer Henry Owings, who has worked with Unwound, Lee Hazlewood, Mr. Show, Charley Patton, Pylon and the Jesus Lizard, among others. It was edited by Gail O’Hara, editor-in-chief of the “legendary indie nerd bible” chickfactor. She was the music editor at Time Out New York, and an editor at SPIN, ELLEgirl, Kinfolk, Washington City Paper, and EW.