Painting in Mid-Song: After Great Success in Advertising and Music Production, Mark Keller Embarks on a Career in Fine Art. (Artist Profile: Mark Keller)

By Lo, Kevin | Art Business News, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Painting in Mid-Song: After Great Success in Advertising and Music Production, Mark Keller Embarks on a Career in Fine Art. (Artist Profile: Mark Keller)


Lo, Kevin, Art Business News


Artist Mark Keller lives life as if approaching the climax of a great aria: already begun, not quite finished and in steady crescendo. As a painter, he plays the role of a conductor, forever keeping the musician and audience in tune.

"It seems like most of my paintings are in the middle of a song. Sometimes it's after the music has just finished, sometimes it's about to happen, but in some way or another, music has affected the scene," said Keller.

The impact of music on Keller's work is not surprising. During his youth, he played music in roadhouses and dance halls and learned that it does not matter what happens before or after a song, "You may have bad things going on in your life, and there may be problems in the world, but when you're in the middle of a song, life is better somehow just for those few moments," he said.

Keller, who grew up in Oklahoma, left college and a music scholarship behind to pursue his music career full time, but he was torn between painting and music. At age 18, he had a one-man show of his paintings at the Oklahoma City Contemporary Arts Foundation but also had the opportunity to play in a few rock bands that garnered several record deals. At age 21, he discovered he had a talent for writing jingles and settled on music to earn his daily bread.

Soon, Keller began working in advertising and eventually relocated to San Francisco. There, he acted as art director and oftentimes wrote, produced and performed the music for the ads. He is responsible for jingles promoting such familiar names as Levi's 501 Blues, California Raisins and Taco Bell. Keller eventually created his own music production company, called Keller Studios (formerly Keller & Cohen), to supply music to ad agencies.

Throughout his rising success in advertising, Keller continued to paint for personal enjoyment. Then, in the fall of 2000, he showed his work at the Sausalito Art Festival. "It was such a mind-blower for me how well my work was received--that's when I decided to do this seriously. I've definitely scaled back [my music production] to create room and time to paint. That's what excites me now," he said. Keller enjoys the freedom of painting on his own terms.

"Although creating music is fun, there are a lot of people involved. They all have the right to give you input, and you compromise all along the way," he said. "That's okay, but when I'm painting and I want to make the sunset orange, I don't have to get any clearance from the creative review board. I just go ahead and paint it whatever color I want, and it's very satisfying. …

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