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Bringing Art To The Masses
by Matthew Lahey

Volume, Volume, Volume | Parakeets & Showgirls

Artist Steve Keene wants you to buy his art, and he's priced it to move. Don't think twice. We're talking original paintings that start at the price of a latte and, depending on size, work up to the price of a good lunch. Keene, dubbed the "Johnny Appleseed of Art," is planting a seed, indeed: Art is for everyone.

"I want buying my paintings to be like buying a CD: it's art, it's cheap and it changes your life, but the object doesn't have any status. I don't think it's weird for people to have 30 of my paintings because they can hang up a few and keep the rest for another time, like playing a record."

So how does he keep the prices low? Volume, volume, volume. Keene paints in his Brooklyn studio from 8am to 8pm, six days a week. He works fast and hard, lining up rows of inexpensive pieces of wood paneling along long easels and painting dozens of versions of the same picture. Although the image is the same, none of the paintings are exactly alike.

"I'll paint maybe 100 pictures a day. It's a very intuitive response, because I never really see each picture. I start with the first picture and repeat the same strokes though the process so the 100 pictures are painted at the same time."

The speed of the painting is captured on the wood. Multiple portraits of parakeets with brush-stroked ruffled feathers have eyes looking this way and that, giving the birds personality and filling them with anxious life. Bright, simple and direct, these pictures are painted in quick, angular lines. Seen individually, they hum and pop. Seen together (in tens or hundreds at his studio in Brooklyn or at one of his shows) the sight can be almost overwhelming. It is a thing of wonder!

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