Meet the prolific illustrator who made the Sidewalk album covers, Silver Jews, and more

independent libraries; rock bars; quirky cafes; that quirky home for the older man where college kids hang out; David Chang Restaurant; Countless recording stores. If you’ve ever spent time in any of these places, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a painting by Steve Kane – and once you’ve seen one, it’s hard not to see it everywhere. Kane sold or gave more than 300,000 works over the course of his life, in a style made even more distinct by his own taste in music. His most well-known works are album cover compliments, and flicks of indie classic rock albums rendered with chunky, broad hits. If you’re a fan of indie rock of a certain era, Kane’s work sounds especially familiar, as he made original album covers for his Pavement friends (Wowee Zowee), Silver Jews (Arizona record), apple in stereo (Noise trick fun), among others. Yet, despite being ubiquitous, he has remained in relative obscurity as towering skyscrapers surround his one-story studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You can buy six random boards for just $70 on their website.

steve kane art book It is the first retrospective exhibition of his career, a sprawling, lovingly arranged collection of high-resolution images of low-resolution Kane art. His practice is as artisan as it is an artist, rooted in a hand-printing process designed to give as many people as possible the opportunity to have the profound experience of owning a physical piece of art. Quite possibly the most prolific American artist of all time, the Yale School of Art-trained painter has remained an outsider in the “traditional” art world seeking to maximize art capital, rather than finding a community in a DIY scene built on a love of music. “A lot of people say ‘art should be affordable’ but Steve really put this into practice,” says Mac McCaughan of Superchunk. And if you’re lucky enough to attend Steve Keene’s show, it probably feels like a rock concert, with Keene spreading out on his easel amid dozens of paintings and the bustling crowd, furiously flicking from canvas to canvas of the same color on his brush. Spectators climb in, take the ready-made pieces they want to take home, and shove a few dollars into the cash register on their way out.

In an interview in his home studio, Keene spoke with Pitchfork about his life in and around music.

Ken works in what he calls a cage, “a room made of a long chain-link fence, filled with just the basics—paint, brushes, wood—and paints.”Image courtesy of Steve Keane

Pitchfork: I’ve read a lot about your software, where you do live demos and draw hundreds of works, and people demand them with little posters. Its interactive nature looks a lot like a rock show.

Steve Kane: It’s supposed to. They are beautiful paintings, but the whole ritual is what gives them meaning. I didn’t really grow up on punk, but my wife and I were at the college radio station when I went to UVA. You’re surrounded by a lot of creativity—other DJs are creative, but also tens of thousands of albums from the past 40 years, all of their quirky and funky artwork, all of their raw notes. It’s just full of jam, and 99 percent of it has been forgotten. It was kind of this different idea of ​​how, Oh my God, I will be forgotten too. Why am I not enjoying this? And why not make art feel like you’re going to a show, or buying a T-shirt or CD?

I’ve never been run over with ideas about the art world, or how you’re supposed to sell your paintings for $9,000. Once I started basically giving up my job, I really felt the need, you know? I just felt, great, that people really appreciate you doing something different. I’m starting to feel like the whole country is my art gallery now, because they’re everywhere—there are 300,000 of them.

When I lived in Williamsburg, I visited one of your open studio days and bought a pair of paintings for $7. Now it looks like you sell most of your work on your website, in random batches; Many of them appear on eBay with great markup. Does this bother you?

One of the reasons Dave Matthews went so big is to encourage fans to make tapes-copies, like the movie Grateful Dead. It’s so weird that people don’t like that, because that’s how you get the information. It’s like seeing someone from high school you’ve forgotten about for 30 years or something – it’s really cool.