Art-o-maton: Keene churns up the volume

Steve Keene's studio.

In honor of Steve Keene’s brief residence at Second Street Gallery, this week I am going to write my column in a Keene-esque style, i.e. fast and using reliable chops. Bear with me; it’s just one week”Š

Having opted to stay in Friday night (oh, the travesty of the art writer not making the First Friday rounds!), I pried myself up and out the door last Saturday afternoon to see how Steve Keene’s studio-for-a-week project was going at SSG. Outside, it was the kind of day where the grey sky and the gray pavement were a vowel away from each other–i.e. oppressively drab–but inside, the gallery was chaos in color (and apparently peaceful compared to the mayhem the previous night).

To the left of the door, numerous wooden cutout camels and lambs sat unfinished in illuminated mangers, while in the middle of SSG’s concrete floor, small plywood benches stood haphazardly, waiting to be painted. Slicing through the gallery at an angle, a nearly ceiling-high scaffold displayed hundreds of Steve Keene’s paintings–some of presidents, some of Radio City Rockettes, some just colorful stripes–many variations on many themes, but all of them energized by a frantic, get-it-on-the-board-and-move-on rush of brush strokes in blue, red, yellow, pink, green and gray.

Curving around the back of the gallery, a large mural, consisting of almost repeated panels of colonial ladies, Monticello, the occasional Taj Mahal, and names of Charlottesville locations jumped with greens and yellows beneath tacked-up magazine pages of classical paintings. In the Dov© Gallery, more paintings covered the walls (the funniest being a series of four Beatles-like figures crossing not Abbey Road, but Rio Road and Pantops), while stacks of multiples rimmed the floor, in the middle of which sat a big cardboard box full of cassette tapes, with “Free” written on its four flaps. Behold the Steve Keene experience.

Like the Wizard of Oz (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”), Keene himself sat on a milk carton behind the main gallery’s scaffold, pulling staples out of wooden panels. Since he left Charlottesville 15 years ago for Brooklyn, NY, he’s been painting like this–turning out dozens of multiple works a day and selling them dirt cheap in an effort to make art accessible.

On Saturday, as he prepared to paint, Keene was both relieved and anxious. Friday’s opening had been such a raging success that he’d already sold half the work “I’m kind of screwed,” he half-joked, “because the show is up until January.”

Time to make the paintings.

Steve Keene’s use of Second Street Gallery as his personal studio continues through Friday, December 12, but his work will remain on view through January 30. 115 Second St. SE. 977-7284.

1 comment

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