Andy Kehoe constructs paintings delivering ambiguous poetic narratives loaded with mystery and mysticism. Within the fantastical world Andy creates, you can expect to be welcomed into scenes inspired by his love of the grandeur of nature, and introduced to a whole host of intriguing characters captured in moments of ethereal magic and spiritual adventure. Kehoe consummately imbues his tales with a spellbinding sense of drama and emotion, largely aided by a undeniable understanding and deft handling of effulgent light sources which bathe the inhabitants of his world in a glorious radiance. Forever challenging himself and experimenting with new techniques, Kehoe’s most recent work incorporates intricately modelled sculptural elements submerged within layers of poured resin and paint. The added illusion of depth created further extends an open hand to the viewer and invites us to step into this world and all of its magical wonder.
Andy Kehoe was born in 1978 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he currently lives and works. In 2003, he graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York, with a BFA in Illustration. Andy’s work has since been exhibited and collected internationally. He is represented by the New York based Jonathan LeVine Gallery.
WOW x WOW recently had the great honour and pleasure of asking Andy some probing questions about his creative endeavours. Find out what he had to say in the following exclusive interview.
Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us for a chat. To start us off, if you could tell us about where you’re currently living and what you like most about the area?
I’m currently living and working in Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve lived in my fair share of American cities, but I’ve always had affinity to my hometown. I most recently moved back here in 2010, met my wife Ash, bought a house, got some cats, and I’ve been here ever since. My hometown is treating me well. Pittsburgh is a great place to live and create work. It’s affordable and I have a great workspace in our house. A lot of our family lives in the area as well, so it’s great to be around them at this time in my life.
Do you remember the first piece of art you ever sold? How did the sale come about and how did it make you feel?
The first piece of artwork I sold was in Middle School. It was a caricature of Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls. It was a pencil drawing on computer paper and I sold it to a classmate for $5. I’m pretty sure that would also make it my first commission. It felt great! I think it was my first realization that I could make a picture on a blank piece of paper and someone would actually give me money for it. Actually, I also recall doing a drawing of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Kevin Stevens for another classmate as well. I was quite the young, burgeoning sports caricaturist back then. If things had turned out differently, I might have been Pittsburgh’s brightest star in the disproportionately large-headed world of caricature. I wonder where those drawings are now.
Professionally speaking, my first painting sold was a piece in what was also my first art show. It was a group show in Brooklyn curated by Jordan Isip, my Parsons teacher at the time. The painting was small and I remember feeling extremely excited to see my work hanging in a gallery; and it was hanging next to other artists that I really admired. At that moment, I felt really connected to something larger and there was nothing I wanted more than to be a part of it. Then on top of it all, someone ended up buying my little painting. It was an amazing revelation for me. Honestly, until moving to New York to study at Parsons, I had no idea you could even show this kind of work in galleries. I had planned on entering the world of freelance illustration after school, but then this show happened and I was hooked. That was 13 years ago, and now I’m fortunate enough to make a living off of it. Sometimes that initial, pure exuberance can get lost in the shuffle when it becomes a job. It’s always good to remember that first show.
It seems over the last few years you’ve been pushing yourself in new directions regarding technique, and to amazing effect it must be said! You’ve been experimenting with the depth of the painted surface by building up transparent layers of resin, which you add paint effects to and you have also introduced sculpted elements to your foregrounds. Can you talk us through how these changes have impacted your working practice and studio environment? Also, in what ways do you feel your experimentation with technique has affected the overall mood of your pieces and the way you deliver your narratives?
I’ve always had a desire to try out new techniques with my work. When I was doing more traditional paintings, I would play with different mediums, textures, pastes, gels, and whatever I could get my hands on. I also worked with multiple layers of varnishes, and worked from background to foreground, so the jump to working in layers of resin wasn’t too much of a change in that regard. When I decided to go all-in with the resin, it really opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It was inspiring to use a new medium that was seemingly only limited by own imagination.
I definitely learn something every time I work on a new piece. Then I get to expand upon those lessons and discoveries in later paintings. For instance, I combined wet oil paint in the wet resin, and it produced some amazing and unexpected results in a manner that I was not initially intending. I decided to take it in this new direction and push it further, adding different kind of paints, pigments, and dyes. The technique produces such a wonderful texture, and I’ve been using it in some way or another in all of my paintings ever since. There is also a degree of randomness to this technique since there is only so much you can do to control it. I love that. It has an organic chaos quality to it that fits really well with how I like to work. For most of my paintings, I start out with a central but basic concept, and I let the world kind of form on it’s own before settling on the final composition. I allow the initial layer of wet paint in the wet resin to guide me in this regard. In some cases it has completely redirected me.
I had wanted to work with sculptural mediums for some time and being able to integrate some of these elements in my work has been very gratifying. Because the sculpture is eventually completely submerged in the resin, I’m able to paint intricate and delicate layers of paint on and around the sculpture with out having to worry about the fragility of it. It’s great! And I love that the 2D and 3D elements of the pieces eventually blend into each other with great effect. That being said, I don’t want the 3D nature of the work to be seen as the main selling point of my work. I had someone return a resin painting to me because he said it wasn’t “3D enough” for him. That made me reassess how my work was being portrayed. When it comes to resin art, I know there is a lot of work that is super 3D in nature, such as the goldfish art by Riusuke Fukahori. Don’t get me wrong, I really, really love his work. I truly appreciate the mind-blowing craft of that kind of work, and I have a ton of respect for those 3D resin artists. That is just not what I’m looking to do with my own work. I love being able to push the depth of my work with the resin, but that’s only one of the many reasons I continue to work with resin. My number one goal is to create engaging and interesting imagery. The flexibility of working in this spontaneous, versatile, and experimental manner really suits me and my creative process. So far it has been the best and the most enjoyable way for me to bring my ideas to life.
Many of the characters in your recent work have become increasingly dwarfed by the vastness of their surroundings. What lead to this new development?
For me, the grandeur of nature is truly what inspires a large and profound sense of wonder in me. I’ve personally witnessed a lot of wonders that have made a lasting impression on me: The Redwoods, exploring Yellowstone, and the Grand Teton national parks. I’m also awed by landscape and nature photography and, of course, photographs and images of deep space. There is a great power in the stark reminder of being very small in a large, vast world. I wanted my world to capture some of that sense of scale, so I began featuring the world itself as the main character. Although, I do still love painting the characters and creatures that inhabit these lands, so I make a conscious effort to mix in more character-based paintings with the more grand nature paintings.
Your work is decidedly mystical in nature. Do you have an affinity with any particular realm of mysticism? Where does this facet of your work stem from?
I do not personally gravitate towards any established vision of mysticism or spirituality, although they do interest me in a cultural sense. It’s challenging to bring the intangible nature of mysticism to life, and it’s interesting to see people’s different interpretations of it. I definitely do not want to have my work promote or directly reflect a certain brand of spiritual thinking. I’ve always been someone that hoped and wished there was a unseen layer that existed underneath the reality around me, but of course, there will always be doubts and uncertainties. So in this created world, I want magic and mysticism to be undoubtedly real with none of those uncertainties. I want it to be a known and accepted part of their living world. While I don’t see myself as a particularly spiritual person, the world I paint and the denizens of that world certainly are, because their world is mystic by its very nature.
Would you say that the interpretations viewers offer about your work end up influencing what you produce? What are your thoughts about the dialogue and conversation cycle which is created between the artist and viewer?
I wouldn’t say that it directly influences me, but it’s always good to know which pieces people are having a strong emotional response to. I never want to replicate an old piece visually, but I’ll definitely try to recapture the essence of what gravitated people to it.
I have a good amount of people contact me about my work and tell me of their personal connections to it, which is always very gratifying. Being able to connect with people all over the world with my work, and to have them inject their own personal stories and feelings into that work, is truly one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do. I’ve recently had a good number of young people message me, and even a number of students that were doing projects based off my work. I remember all the artists that inspired me at a young age and in school. To be on the other end of that is just unbelievably cool and such an honor.
We sometimes ask an artist if they’ve ever felt under any pressure to keep painting in the style they have become known for. Having exhibited your work for a number of years now, how have your seen your art evolve during this time and have you ever felt any of this pressure?
It’s always a tricky balance in any creative endeavor to let your work evolve and grow, yet still hang onto the qualities of the work that people were initially attracted to. Due to the fantastical nature of my work, I’ve always felt a certain amount of freedom to push my work into new territories, both technically and thematically. As long as, in the end, I stay true to the essence of it. There is a certain pressure in the beginning to stand out from the crowd and to define what makes your work stylistically your own. A teacher of mine compared it to creating your own visual language. You have to start with a letter to form a word, and then those words evolve and can eventually be used as the building blocks to form that visual language. After a while, you stop spending so much time worrying if you’re speaking the language correctly. You’re free to just speak your mind through your work.
The only pressure I feel now is the need to continue pushing myself and to make sure I never become complacent with my work. Of course I’ve worked very hard to get to this point, but I still have to appreciate the fortunate position I’m in. I appreciate all the amazing galleries and people I have had and continue to have the honor of working with. It’s truly awesome, and I will never take it for granted.
What is your relationship with art history? Do you feel that it’s important for an artist to have an understanding of what has gone before them?
I’ve taken my fair share of art history classes in school, but a lot of my more significant delving into art history came after school with my own personal discoveries and explorations. Granted, a lot of this exploration came during hazy, late night, internet-stream-of-conscious-link-clicking-sessions that lasted for unknown hours and took me down every tangent imaginable. Such is life on the web, but it’s amazing to have all these resources literally at our fingertips.
It’s good to recognize the masters of their respective crafts. It will always be beneficial to study and appreciate what they’ve done. To revel in what these great minds were able to bring into the world. Craft aside, these works also give us a window into history itself. In many cases, the only glimpse into what life was like for certain people during a certain period of time. Without art and cultural artifacts, human history would likely be an indeterminable black abyss devoid of any perspective and understanding. Luckily, for whatever reason, humans have been expressing themselves through art for as long as our minds have been trying to explain the world around and inside us. It’s a wonderful legacy to participate in and to help perpetuate.
Imagine, all of a sudden, you find yourself residing within the painted world you have created. What would your character look like and what would you be engaged in?
In a way I already feel like I’m residing in the world. I see myself as more of an observer rather than an active participant. Sometimes I approach my work as if I’m a photojournalist that’s documenting the strange wonders and the characters that inhabit the world.
Though, if I were to be seen, I would definitely have some antlers, and I would definitely be wearing some snazzy clothes probably made out of leaves and a nice wool.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
With the 2016 Presidential Election circus rapidly approaching, I think I have an appropriate story to tell.
In 2003, I graduated from Parsons. After 2 years of non-stop school and work, I finally had some free time to actually enjoy living in New York. During this summer of extreme excess and inebriation, the Democratic and Republican Presidential primaries were starting to their full, virulent stride and I got pretty deep into it all. I absorbed everything I could on the candidates and their views; and I reveled in the utterly sordid and crooked spectacle of it all. These election campaigns work on such a base level and they seem to do their best to whip the populous into a frothing, frenzied mob. It began to take a major toll on my mind.
After a late night of cheap bourbon and cheaper beer, I stumbled home and eventually passed out somewhere in the region of my bedroom. At some point in the night, I awoke to relieve myself, but instead of walking back to my bedroom from the bathroom, I opened my front door and wandered outside in nothing but my underwear. I was in some sort of half-sleep state where I could see what I was doing; but I had no control over my brain or the broken, unhinged logic my brain was trying to function off of. With little else to run on, my brain started pulling fuel from the hot, smoldering, fumes of political manure that had been collecting there for months. It had compressed itself into a dense, volatile cow patty of rage and bewilderment. It wouldn’t take much to set it all aflame.
At first, I felt mostly confusion as I walked around my apartment complex, half-nude, and attempting to open every door handle I saw in a desperate attempt to find home. (Luckily, none of those doors opened and no one seemed to notice me trying to enter random apartments. I’m guessing the sight of a half-asleep, half-naked, half-Asian guy walking into your house, or wriggling your door handle in the middle of the night probably wouldn’t provoke the kindest of responses.) When all of my attempts to reach home were seemingly thwarted, my confusion turned into a bright angry spark… the cow patty of rage was ignited. I started muttering things like “these lying, no-good, scumbag politicians are keeping me out of my own home. those disingenuous bastards. dammit. swift boat. false indignation bullshit,” and so on. I seethed with the effrontery of this completely self-concocted crime against my God-given liberties as an American. I’m not sure how long I was roaming the halls of the apartment building, but at some point I found a door that would open; and it lead me directly out into the cold streets of Brooklyn. After another unknown time period of angry mutterings outside on the streets, I finally had the sense to go back to my apartment building and attempt to get back in. Of course, I had locked myself out, and I began incessantly ringing my apartment doorbell. Eventually my roommate did get up, buzzed me in, and opened the apartment door for me. I barged right past him, climbed into bed, and passed out.
The next day, my roommate approached me to ask what the hell I had been doing outside in my underwear at 5 am. When he had opened the door, I had apparently stormed past him, muttering something along the lines of, “Republicans, my basic human rights, fucking liars, keeping me out of my own house, grumble, grumble, blah, Bush.” Until he said this, I had completely forgotten about the entire episode… then it all came flooding back. From that moment on, I decided not to get too wrapped up in politics; my brain can’t handle all of the flammable manure.
If you could own any piece of art from the world’s collections, what would it be and why?
It would probably have to be something from the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance. I was somehow introduced to that period of art as a kid and since then, I’ve always had a strong connection to that period of painting. Of course I love many of the fantastical works of Hieronymus Bosch, but there is something about the painting ‘Hunters in the Snow’ by Pieter Bruegel, which has stuck with me over the years. On top of the obvious technical prowess of the painting, there is something about the mix of bleakness and vibrancy that continues to resonate with me.
What’s next for Andy Kehoe?
Later this year I’ll be involved in a few group shows including a Thinkspace curated show in London, and the 10th year anniversary of the BLAB! SHOW at Copro Nason, both opening in September. Then my next solo show will be in NYC at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in June 2016.