Independent publishers Tractor Beam and Hat & Beard Press will publish Steve Keene’s Art Book, produced by Daniel Efram, on June 14. The 265-page Kickstarter-funded book, which retails for $95, is the first art book to feature Keene exclusively. Based in Brooklyn The artist has done over 300,000 paintings during his career and has created posters and album covers for bands such as Pavement, The Apples in stereo, Palace, Soul Coughing and Silver Jews, among others.
Keene, who has been called the “Picasso of the assembly line” by Timeand was profiled in The New York Times, is known to create 50 or more paintings daily from his home studio which he calls “the cage”, made of chicken wire, where he paints for eight or more hours a day. In an interview, Keene, who holds an MFA from Yale, said of his production, “I think I always work this way because every day feels like the first day I started working like this. ” In the book, Keene says of his work, “I feel like a craftsman. I am a person who makes bagels or pizza. Or coffee mugs. I feel like I’m doing a job for a different need. You might need a coffee mug, and you might need some paint.
The idea for the book was conceived in 2016 during Keene’s “Modular Synthesis” exhibition at the Subliminal Projects gallery in Los Angeles, organized by Efram with gallery owners Amanda and Shepard Fairey. Efram runs publishing company Tractor Beam, which published his 2019 photography book Curiositiesin partnership with Hat & Beard Press, which, according to their website, creates “original, illustrated non-fiction books of pop-cultural and historical significance that build on existing cult audiences” and “champion[s] the revamp and re-release of classic visual culture titles are worth checking out.
Efram has been collaborating with Keene since the mid-1990s, when in his work with bands and record labels he was responsible for album art and frequently hired Keene. Efram coldly introduced Shepard Fairey about the 2016 show and, while working on it, realized that Keene’s work was ripe for bookmaking. Efram says that in the book, “We affirm that Steve Keene is the most productive American painter of all time.” Preparing for the 2016 show, Subliminal Projects requested photos of all the pieces Keene would perform. “For other smaller artists, it would be like taking a few photos and you’d be done. In Keene’s case, it involved taking hundreds of pictures, and it occurred to me that maybe if the pictures were right, maybe it would make a great book one day,” Efram says. .
Efram’s initial idea for the book was to include the 180 unique pieces by Keene that featured on the 2016 show Subliminal Projects, but as he began to hear from fans and see the response on Kickstarter, where the crowdfunding campaign had more than 600 contributors, his vision for the project changed. “More than one large art book publisher was interested, as well as a few smaller partners,” says Efram. “The major publishers I spoke with were very excited about my original concept focusing on the works of Subliminal Projects. However, the fans seemed to want more diverse content. done on Steve, my perspective changed. It must have been Steve Keene’s Art Book.” On the scope of the project, Efram says: “It had to be broad, covering every decade and as many different themes as possible. If this book succeeds, it is thanks to Steve’s years of hard work and perseverance, the wonder, joy and amusement he has spread around the world. All I’m trying to do is provide historical context.
Efram calls crowdfunding an essential part of the final form of the book. Having worked on many art projects “that were rarely done exactly the way the artists I championed or imagined them to be,” he says that with crowdfunding, “you lay out your plan, and if there’s enough interest, even important goals can be achieved, hopefully with the least possible compromise to the concept and without transfer of ownership. That is certainly the beauty of raising funds independently. For art books, it may be the only way to produce them, especially deep dives into a subject like this.
To gather the material that went into the final book, Efram had to research Keene’s illustrations, using Instagram, where over 300 people uploaded their pieces with the hashtag #SKartBook for possible inclusion. Keene sold his work for as little as $1. Efram encouraged Kickstarter backers and other Keene fans to send him their artwork to photograph for inclusion in the book. For Efram, the process of choosing which work to include was a “huge lift”, given the many options. “With an artist creating such a massive body of work over a career spanning more than thirty years, it was essential to evaluate and re-evaluate the content collected in order to tell the fullest story possible,” says Efram.
The book is edited by chickfactor co-founder and former Free time in New York Music editor Gail O’Hara and designed by Grammy-nominated graphic designer Henry Owings. The book will include, with over 300 works by Keene and photos of Keene by Efram, an introduction by Shepard Fairey and numerous essays by Keene fans in the world of art and music. About Keene’s work, Shepard Fairey wrote in a blog post: “When I discovered Steve Keene’s work in the 90s, I was fascinated by his rapid working process for creating multiple versions of paintings that would allow him to keep prices low, yet make each painting an original.
The essayists of Steve Keene’s Art Book include Threadwaxing Space curator Sam Brumbaugh, musicians such as Hilarie Bratset, writer Sam Brumbaugh, journalist Karen Loew, McGinness and Christina Zafiris, plus commentary from Starling Keene and curators Jonathan LeVine, Leo Fitzpatrick and Talia Logan. “One of the best ideas I had was to surround the project with people from the New York indie music scene of the 1990s and 90s who knew Keene’s work in order to guide me through this vast project” , notes Efram.
Efram says of the Hat & Beard Press partnership for the track: “We share the belief that this project can be marketed very much like an indie rock record.” To that end, the book is sized like a vinyl LP box set. Efram hopes to hold exhibitions of Steve Keene art in galleries and concert halls in select cities in conjunction with the release.