Awesomely Cheap (or Cheaply Awesome?) Art

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I have such a fun art secret to share! Not a secret, I guess, but something new to me that I loved so much. My friend Allison has some cool paintings at her house that I noticed. When I asked about them, she said, “Oh, those are by Steve Keene . .  . do you want one?” How generous! Little did I know.

Allison told me that Steve Keene is a Brooklyn artist (she knows him from his work in Charlottesville) who creates massive installations made up of hundreds of smaller paintings on plywood. His process is really interesting, but so is his philosophy: he wants visual art to be available for everyone, like buying a song for a dollar from iTunes. So when those installations are dismantled, the individual paintings can come live at your house! You pay $30 (plus $12 shipping) and he’ll send 5 or so medium paintings. You don’t know what you’ll get, but you know it’s folk art and it’s likely colorful (possibly bizarre).

Of course, I jumped on that opportunity pretty much immediately, and then had to wait awhile before our mystery paintings arrived in the mail. By the time the package arrived I’d become so curious and eager that I was Christmas-morning giddy as I ripped through the brown paper. And I was not disappointed. I’d emailed with Steve during the wait, so maybe because of that, maybe because of Allison, or maybe randomly, we got nine or ten paintings instead of the advertised four or five!

Then I put on my insane art curator hat and ran around rearranging and trying things out on our walls. In the end, not a lot was rearranged. But the whole process, with the surprise element, not to mention the low cost, was such fun. I might be addicted. It was like Stitch Fix for art, except less expensive. Think about it— five paintings for under $9 a piece, and in my case, $4.20 a piece! The low cost of it makes it so low risk, which I love. Don’t get me wrong: the paintings are awesome and might fit in timelessly with your collection, but if they’re not your speed, no biggie fry.

With that in mind, here’s what’s happening with ours. A few I knew immediately would be gifts (and I mean sincere gifts, as opposed to funny gifts—you’ll see what I mean in a moment), a few are on our walls,

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 one in particular is in the bathroom (inexpensive=don’t worry about water damage),

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and the weirdest of the bunch made a perfect post-bar exam celebratory gift for my cousin Nate.

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(Trust me, he appreciated this.)

I’m not sure how it happened along the way, but we’ve amassed a pretty fun art collection. Not super expensive collector pieces, but meaningful pieces that have some reason behind them like the colorful Memphis in May Music Festival poster, framed photographs from travels during college, this fruit painting (I love. Our most formal frame, in the kitchen. :) That’s why art is fun. My aunt and uncle gave it to us our first married Christmas.).

Though I love what we have, I realized a few years ago that most stuff on our walls was framed behind glass—prints, photos, drawings—and that we should go for more texture to round things out—actual paint, fabric, more three-dimensional hangings. Then I visited one of my good friends who lived with her husband in Charlottesville at the time. They had a small rental house, and when I walked in I said, “Wow, this is really, like, a grown-up house.” I think she had inherited some formal side tables, and had generally nice coordinated furniture, but it was the art that did it for me. In the living room they’d hung a large abstract floral painting by an artist that her family really liked. She and her sisters had gotten a discount when all of them bought paintings at an arts festival.

It was confirmed: I needed* paintings.

But, two problems with original paintings: 1) They’re pricey (you have good taste, so anything you like is bound to be super expensive). Or, 2) You don’t have an artsy background, and maybe you like something and could buy it, but you’re worried: what if it goes out of style and you don’t like it later, or maybe it’s great by itself but just doesn’t work with everything else you’ve got going on, decor-wise.

Why would you spend so much on something purely decorative (and possibly of questionable taste)?

Art should be fun, expressive, not anxiety-inducing. This is why I love Steve Keene for giving me some honest to goodness paintings on my walls. If you like folk art, you should give this a try. Even if you don’t, there’s no risk involved. Give a painting to your pilates teacher, your farmer, or your favorite barista.

Will you order some paintings?? Please report back if you do!

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 They’re not funny. They’re art. (Name that movie.)

Not sponsored. I love Steve Keene.

*Wanted. But visuals affect me, and you, too, so the need argument could be made.

New Art!

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. -Thomas Merton

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I intended to share some new paintings from Uncle Steve this past Saturday, on his birthday. But, not unusually, things got away from me. I was telling Israel that my life this weekend reminded me too much of this immortal SNL skit and Chris Farley’s brilliant use of air quotes.

In my pregnant mom version: so maybe my house is not what you would call “clean.” I haven’t “taken a shower.” My family has no “fresh underwear.” And, sadly, as I just re-watched that video, two of Chris Farley’s also apply to me right now: I don’t “wear clothes that fit me.” I can’t “reach all the parts of my body.”

Too much information?

So . . . Uncle Steve, happy belated birthday! We love your art! Thank you!

If you know Uncle Steve, you know he’s a jack of all trades. Aside from his day job, he landscapes a “meadow-like back yard . . . full of simple pleasures” that gets featured in local magazines. Plus he’s funny and charming, friendly and approachable, making you so comfortable that you may just ask if you can use his back yard for your wedding. Or ask him to be your partner on The Amazing Race. He’s so thoughtful; he regularly calls me, or my husband, just to check in and say hello or that they’re thinking about us. Plus, he’s as handsome as Jamie Foxx.

If that weren’t enough, he’s a fantastic artist. After I saw two of his gorgeous tobacco leaf paintings last year, I had to ask him for something for our place!

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This one, called “Appalachian Memories,” I love. I don’t think his tobacco plants grew this year, so I’m not sure what type of leaves these are that create the rolling mountain landscape. Mary Tobin and I have been picking up leaves on our walks; they are just amazing to stare at. I love that in this painting, the part becomes the whole. I automatically relax when I look at it. I feel connected to the place my mom and uncle grew up, to my aunt and uncle’s house, to the land that produced these leaves, to my uncle who picked them up and created something with them, to my family.

Next, Mary Tobin received new art for her room walk-in closet nursery! I can tell you nothing about the technique used, but it adds the perfect touch of magic/fantasy/whimsy/delight to the space. Usually when hanging things in her room I offer two acceptable spots and let Mary Tobin choose where something will go. But for this one, forget about “good parenting.” (Chris Farley’s living in my mind.)

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It’s in a place of honor right above the Señorita Mexicana, whose colors complement the new painting beautifully.

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The Mexican lady, by the way, is a Carlos Merida print that was tracked down on e-bay by Uncle Steve’s better half, Aunt Kace, after I had pinned the image on my Pinterest nursery inspiration board. I cried when they unveiled it at Mary Tobin’s baby shower. (To be fair I cry about a lot of things when pregnant; it’s official.)

Aunt Kace and Uncle Steve, what a pair you make! Thank you for decorating our house!