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Speed artist’s boro scenes displayed at Queens Center

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By the end of his 10-hour day, 100 paintings are complete. The byproduct of this whirlwind of artistic activity is graffiti-style art sold dirt cheap.

"If you try to think if it not like artwork, treat it more simply like a construction job, you're able to make more of it at a faster pace," said Steve Keane, artist.

One of America's fastest painters, Keene, 46, of Brooklyn, has a brand new exhibit at the Queens Center mall entitled "Postcards from Queens." All of the artwork, produced on commission, in some way relates to Queens.

The exhibit features more than 150 images of people and places of Queens, such as images of John F. Kennedy International Airport, the World's Fair, Shea Stadium and jazz icons. Keene's artwork was situated in a passageway connecting two sections of the expanded mall, currently undergoing construction.

At the moment, the exhibit is in the process of being moved to a new location within the mall. It should be back up later this week.

"Steve's postcards have captured the essence of Queens, from its musical heritage to its diverse people and its colorful landscapes," said Dawn Simon, marketing manager for Queens Center located at 90-15 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst. "We feel we have discovered him even though he is already widely known."

Keene manufactures his art in assembly-line fashion across two walls of canvases inside of his steel cage made for painting. He said he thinks of himself more as a blue-collar worker than an artist.

"Since I mass produce my work, I'm like a baker who bakes 100 pies a day," said Keene

During the course of a day, Keene may paint only one image. But he will create 100 different renderings of that image. Keene starts the day with big brush strokes on all of the canvases he is working on. The brushes get smaller and smaller as the day wears on. He begins to focus on detail.

If he were painting a portrait, each feature, such as the nose, would be done simultaneously on each painting. Then he would move on to the next feature on the face. In Keene's speed painting, all the paintings are begun and ended at the same time. "It's not a conventional idea, but it works," said Keene.

Keene, who has a degree from the Yale Graduate School of Fine Arts, does not take credit for developing the idea of speed painting.

"I didn't come up with the idea," said Keene. "It evolves."

Keene's painting style is so unique that he has been invited to paint on the premises of art galleries, allowing people to watch him in action. In November 1997, he painted in the window of the Goldie Paley Gallery at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia for six weeks.

SK Art, Keene's company, was developed around 1993. Over the last 12 years, Keene has painted at least 160,000 works of original art. Keene said he thinks his artwork is more akin to graffiti than traditional art.

"It's almost like graffiti art to buy and put in somebody's house," said Keene.

A full-time artist, Keene's only source of revenue is to sell paintings. He sells paintings primarily on his Web site,www.stevekeene.com. The paintings are as cheap as buying a poster, averaging about $10.

"I want my art to be accessible, affordable, something that could change your life," he said.

Keene, a former radio DJ, has worked on album cover art for the likes of Pavement and Apples in Stereo. In addition, he has done video sets and promo work for record companies.

"Musicians create something for the moment, something with no boundaries," said Keene. "That kind of expansiveness is what I want to come across in my paintings."

Reach reporter Tommy Hallissey by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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