A typical Keene composition is illustrative and barebones—somewhat slapdash, but with real feeling. “In some ways I’ve dumbed them down, and that’s a good thing,” Keene tells me. “My work is better because it’s simpler, just: dog, cat, tree, blue, red, yellow.” Many of his paintings are roughly the size of vinyl record sleeves, and often borrow from album art for their imagery. (Keene has also been commissioned by bands before, including Pavement, who tapped him for the cover of their 1995 album Wowee Zowee). Occasionally he’ll depict familiar landmarks—I have a Keenian rendering of Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby, hanging in my kitchen—or urban landscapes. He’ll paint dozens of variations on the same composition, lining up blank wooden panels and methodically building them up one by one, element by element.
The artist got his start in Charlottesville, Virginia. There, in the early 1990s, Keene would carry bags of his paintings around to bars, selling them to a helpfully pre-lubricated audience. As a result, he reckons there are still “tens of thousands” of his compositions hanging around the college town—a kind of omnipresent interior decoration, whether or not casual viewers know who the “SK” is in each painting’s dashed-off signature.