Renee Keene’s car is filled with potential art supplies. Objects range from pieces of wood to rubber ducks, which she is very excited about.
“I got these ducks and immediately started thinking about what I can turn them into,” Keene said. “I’m thinking about a duck clock.”
In her unorthodox cargo, Keene sees an endless list of ideas ready to become works of art.
Keene’s artistic talents involve reclaiming, or upcycling, old materials. Her work not only includes decorative pieces but custom furniture creations as well.
“I believe that everything old can be reclaimed and made new again for everyone to enjoy,” she said with a smile. “That is what motivates my art and my furniture creations.”
Keene’s work has been featured all over Birmingham including, but not limited to, Avondale Brewing Company and West Elm furniture store.
“I’m currently featured in an art gallery in Nashville and I’m in negotiations with a gallery in Homewood and one in Atlanta also,” she said.
She explained she prefers to work in reclaimed wood.
“I’ll carve, paint, stain, refinish whatever I can get my hands on,” Keene said. “But I like to say my medium is ‘fun,’ if that even makes any sense. I work with anything that I see has potential to be something else.”
“I look at things and I see what I can turn it into,” she said. “I went to a yard sale a few days ago and someone had three dining room chairs that they threw out which crushed my soul. So I got the chairs, took them apart and put them back together and made one giant bench seat. That’s what I do! Some people look at three chairs and think, ‘Okay I see three chairs,’ and I think, ‘Oh there’s a new table or work bench!’ That’s just how I operate.”
When it comes to what to work on next, Keene sees possibilities in what some will see as unexpected places.
“I found an old upright piano (like the tall ones that you push up against the wall) that someone had thrown out,” she said excitedly. “I had some friends move it into my garage and I plan on turning it into a personal bar. I’ve also turned pallets into a couch. I have a coffee table that has about four hundred-some-odd pennies and one dime under the glass. I have a whole list of things I’ve done and want to do! My garage is filled with stuff that I’ve been working on.”
While Keene does love experimenting with different media, her true love is working with wood.
“Wood is so cool to me because…it’s not alive, of course, but it was once,” she said. “It was once a living thing, and it has texture and it has character and grains and no two things are alike… I just love that aspect of it. It not only looks cool but it adds so much character. I can change it to whatever I want (smooth, rough, or what have you) and I have so much fun with it.”
Where it comes from
Keene partially accredits her creativity and work ethic to her upbringing.
“My family had a farm, and we were constantly told to go outside and create things,” Keene said. “Being able to see something and turn it into something else stuck with me. My first piece ever was…I think I was six and I made a clay sculpture of my foot. But I’ve always loved painting and creating and for me this path was the perfect fit for me.”
Keene has always made pieces for friends or special requests, but it was social networking that helped her business grow.
“I work with a very close network of friends who are also artists and we refer each other to people based on what those people want,” she said. “My friends know that if anybody has a project with wood I’m the go-to girl.”
Keene says that using Facebook helped tremendously when she posted pictures of her work.
“I would get a flood of messages from people asking, ‘Hey what can you do with this?’ And it just sort of snowballed into what it is today,” she said. “I mean I’ve always loved creating pieces for people but with Facebook, doors were opened to friends of friends and some people I don’t even know.”
A very family-oriented person, Keene has always tried to inspire her three daughters and grandchildren to create.
“When [my daughters] were growing up I would do murals in their room of, like, Barney or whatever they were into at the time,” Keene said. “And when they grew out of it we would just paint over it and start on a new one. They were allowed to paint on their walls and that was how I grew up. You just played and did things.”
While Keene said she’s more than happy to do commissions, she mainly works out of her own head.
“I can do commissions, but I don’t follow a certain pattern,” she said. “Friends come to me saying, ‘I saw this on Pinterest’ and I’m like, ‘Uh well I can do that better and even more simple.’ … I can duplicate things but it’s never going to look exactly the same. Everything is custom made and it’s new every time.”
In the world of upcycling, warehouse-hunting and friends are vital attributes, according to Keene.
“Most of the things I create are due to hours of rummaging through warehouses [or] garage sales or have been given to me by friends,” she said. “My friends know I love challenges so they always send me pictures of things and say, ‘What can you do with this?’ But I just love searching and hunting for things to see what I can make out of them.”
Keene’s biggest outlook on her creations is also her outlook on life: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Her advice to aspiring artists: “The cool thing about art is that it’s never right or wrong. It’s never going to be perfect for everyone. Someone’s going to love it! And even if the only person who loves it is you, who cares? Just have fun making it!”
For more information on Renee’s work, visit her Instagram page reenee_keene_art or email her at email@example.com