BERGAMOT STATION — Artist Steve Keene is back in Santa Monica with his signature frenetic mass-production style for a week-long “Art Marathon” at the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
In 2000, Keene packed the museum floor to ceiling with 10,000 works of art for Miracle Half-Mile — an exhibit celebrating the history of the museum.
Keene’s first exhibit left a smattering of his works in the homes, patios and yards of Santa Monica. This time around, Keene is raising funds for SMMoA by painting dozens of copies of the same image each day.
“I create environments. I was always a painter, but it was boring, regular art school painting,” Keene said.
Keene, whose daily multiples began lining the museum’s courtyard on Sunday, would never be accused of painting “art-school paintings” by the museum’s executive director Elsa Longhauser.
Longhauser, who 11 years ago initiated Keene’s exhibit and whose 10-year celebration as curator is the reason for his return, was originally fascinated by his art which both defied the art world and the art market.
Keene doesn’t gear his paintings toward one market, his work, he says, are just as at home in a museum as at a child’s birthday party.
At this week’s event in which Keene paints 30-60 works simultaneously the look out word is affordability with paintings starting at $10.
The result of affordable art is the simultaneous transformation of any Santa Monica resident into an “instant curator and collector,” Longhauser said.
Following the theme of viewer participation and accessibility, the museum welcomes themes and images for Keene’s daily art race. People are being asked to e-mail email@example.com with ideas.
Keene’s themes, self-described as “just regular stuff,” range from Los Angeles icons to animals. But the subject matter is not what Keene views as essential to his work.
“The image is not important. I don’t care what I paint,” Keene said.
Keene states that rather his goal is to create art that is “less personal and less precious” designed more like trading cards.
Influenced by minimalist art, Keene, educated at Yale, began his mass art production in Virginia in the mid 1990s amidst a growing music scene. Keene has collaborated with several musicians including the Silver Jews, Pavement, The Apples in Stereo, Soul Coughing, Dave Matthews Band and Merzbow to create album art, video sets, stage sets and posters.
In lieu of traditional art, Keene was fascinated by 10,000 paintings packed into a room or shows consisting solely of one massive painting that looked as if it could eat the viewer.
“In a way I was the village idiot painting a million paintings,” Keene said.
His rapid-fire style hasn’t let up and the Brooklyn-based artist travels around the world putting on his one-man shows.
In the courtyard surrounded by onlookers, Keene is absorbed in the repetitive motion of applying stroke after stroke mirroring himself, and his self-description as “the village idiot” seems less applicable despite the many spectators.
“Workhorse,” as one museum staffer calls Keene, seems more appropriate.
Or as Jennifer Martinez, a museum-goer who trekked out from Palos Verdes to witness the mad dash of art creation and to inspire her 2-year-old budding artist daughter, simply calls Keene “a real artist.”