Phoenix Creative
In Conversation with Muralist Keanen Kasten
“I wanted to incorporate a vintage vibe to balance the soft modern feel of the restaurant.”
Artist at a Glance
At what age did your artistic sensibilities emerge?
As far as I can remember, I was always doing some sort form of art. I was constantly drawing as a child.

What role does your art play in the scheme of things?
I am just trying to make the world a prettier place, one piece at a time.

Tool of your craft you can’t live without?
Spray paint.

Which other contemporary artists do you most identify with?
I draw inspiration from many artists, from the well-knowns of our time—Basquiat, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Pollock—to modern-day masters like Conor Harrington, Cleon Peterson, and Damien Hirst. These great artists have broken the mold, and that is what I identify with them most.

Do you have a motto you stand behind?
In a world that is so caught up on fitting in, the greatest gift one could have is to stand out.

If you weren’t an artist …
Architecture and design is my other passion. I feel art and architecture really go hand in hand. They both harbor great satisfaction from creating something beautiful out of nothing.

How can readers best connect with you?
Through my social media. My Instagram account is kastern.art, and my website is kastenart.com.

You might have seen his work on the side of the Phase 1 building: an astronaut taking a selfie in space. At Mora Italian, his art is equally compelling. This time, it celebrates the out-of-this-world experience of being an Italian screen star in this 1950s pop art–themed mural.
Keanen Kasten wanted to be part of the Mora Italian experience from the moment he saw the renderings for the space. “I had never seen a restaurant in the States look like that, and I knew my work needed to be there: something over the top and yet refined that could be appreciated by all demographics.”

Taking the general Italian theme to heart, he came up with the idea of a 1950s pop art theme. “I wanted to incorporate a vintage vibe to balance the soft modern feel of the restaurant,” he explains. By vintage, he was thinking Italy in the golden era, epitomized by the glamorous Sophia Loren. “I watched countless hours of her classic movies. I looked up various actors from that time period. The Mora Italian team loved the idea, and I started working on it two days later.”

He describes the artistic process as relatively simple, coming together over seven months. “I wanted to make a giant collage with rips and tears to expose another layer beneath.” And it’s exactly what he did: starting with a base layer, adding another layer, and then removing portions of it. He repeated this several times to get the desired effect, spending 150 hours on the project. “It’s definitely a mixed-media piece: I used spray paint, acrylic paint, posters, large images, and countless different techniques.” His biggest challenge was adding a street art vibe into the larger, more refined images to give it enough of an edge without losing its mass appeal.

Kasten surveys the wall with satisfaction. “I wanted a feeling of comfort to resonate with Mora Italian’s guests,” he says, “which the restaurant does overall in terms of food and hospitality. This piece gives you the opportunity to stop time for a second and think back to Italy in its heyday while you question its more edgy aspects.”