Andy Kehoe has an incredibly recognisable style. His layered resin technique creates a depth that photos and prints will never do justice to and his wild landscapes and intriguing characters have become his trademark. Kehoe has formed an entire alternate universe within his art, complete with a population and even its own micro climate. We talk to the artist to try and understand more about the mysterious world that he has come to create.
There is a beautiful sense of childish magic in your work, what draws to this mythological/ folkloreish world?
I have been drawn to worlds of mythology and folklore since childhood. I was into fantasy stories, however, mythology and folklore have always fascinated me due to their link to history and reality. The idea that these stories may have taken place in this world, and to people not so unlike myself, made it seem possible for the very same magic and mystery to happen in my life. The feeling I got from reading and listening to those stories is something that gradually faded with adulthood as many of the world's mysteries began to unfold and truths were revealed. With my work, I’m trying to capture as much of that feeling as possible so I can bring a little magic and imagination back into the world.
Your pieces mostly feature animalesque creatures, trees and the elements. Why is nature such a strong subject for you?
Whew, that is a loaded question. I could probably write a three hour screenplay worthy of Terrence Malick on what nature means to me and what role it has in my work. The long and short of it is that nature is wild, unpredictable, and holds an endless variety of curiosities. Nature will never stop mutating and evolving and I get to bring these qualities into my own world and my own vision of nature. There are no rules to this nature and no rules for creating the creatures that reside in it. Anything is possible and there are no limits to what I can create. That opens up an endless amount of possibilities, the only limit being my own imagination, which, for me is the greatest part about the world I’ve created.
Also, so many of the tales I read as a child were set either in a forest or deep within the mountains and these are the places that will always hold a special feeling of wonder and mystery. Maybe one day, children will hear stories of a witch that lived in a modest downtown loft, but my witches will always live in a shack or hollowed-out tree in the deepest, darkest parts of the forest.
Whilst there is wonder and fantasy in your work, a lot of it feels desolate, with lonely looking characters (with such sad little eyes!). Do you think the mood of your work is more positive or negative?
I don’t find my characters to be lonely and I definitely don’t try to paint any sad eyes on them. I prefer not to assign any overtly human emotions to most of my creatures as I feel they are closer to beast than human. When is the last time you saw a wild animal look like anything but itself, outside of a Disney movie? There is something immensely beautiful and sincere about the gaze of an animal that doesn’t have to reveal everything to you with a wink or a sneer. Sometimes my cat looks at me with these penetrating eyes and I’ll never know what the hell he’s truly thinking. Animals communicate in different ways than humans and for the most part, facial expressions aren’t one of them. If my cat is pissed at me, he’ll probably just look at me with those big eyes and that emotionless gaze, then proceed to knock a glass full of water onto my crotch.
I do paint a lot of scenes with a solitary figure but I don’t find that solitude to be the least bit despondent. For me, when I think of what gives me peace, it’s the expanse of an empty field with a large open sky or it is a hidden nook that lies deep within a forest. I prefer to not overcrowd a painting with too many characters as it makes me feel pretty claustrophobic. I simply like the idea of a solitary creature losing themselves in the nature around them, therefore experiencing something intimate and mystical. Lately though, there have been more interactions between characters, but it’s usually more of a one on one interaction.
This place looks like the most bizarre parallel universe, with some characters in suits, some blending with nature and others looking more ethereal. What's this world like? Is it structured, does it have laws and regulations, or is it more of a fantasy land?
The subtle links to our own world such as familiar garb can help people empathise with a character surrounded by so much bizarreness. I feel having a character one can relate to in some way allows enough familiarity to help transport the viewer into this fantastical situation. Although, even these characters are pretty bizarre in their own right, usually with horns or a bird head or something along those lines. I’ll never go full human so they have to have some sort of creature attribute. All of that being said, a lot of it just comes down to me liking to dress folks in some handsome clothes.
As for the world as a whole, there are definitely areas of the world that are more civilised and structured, having some laws and governing bodies. There are parts of the world are are fully wild, completely steeped in magic and don't abide by any laws or human structure. There is also an underlying spirit world that coexists with the living world. I don’t know if I would consider myself to be a spiritual person or if I can say that I totally believe in the existence of spirits in our world. I would like to believe but I don’t think I’ll ever truly know for sure. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to know as it would probably take a traumatising experience like waking up to a ghost sitting on the edge of my bed or seeing a pair of glowing eyes in my closet. No thanks. I do know spirits, ghosts and ghouls exist in my world and every character knows that they exist. I love that and it makes things exponentially more interesting to me in how they all interact with each other.
What would you be if you weren't an artist?
Some sort of freelance Jason Bourne-like professional killer.
On a completely different note... Did a steroid pumped muscle man really rip his shirt off in front of you and yell, "You're part of the reason I'm castrated"?
That absolutely did happen. My friend Heidi and I were walking through the Mission district in San Francisco nursing some pretty bad hangovers. All I wanted was some coffee and a smoothie when I heard someone yelling, "Fuck!" over and over from some unknown part of the city.
I remember wondering what the hell it was all about and then I saw some guy at the end of the block carrying a bunch of stuff. The bad vibes were immediate and the uneasiness was pretty thick. He threw all of his shit on the ground, ripped off his shirt, and charged at us yelling, "This is real!". I couldn't argue with that at all. It was extremely real, the guy was extremely ripped, and for reasons unknown, insanely angry at us.
He then started forearm shivering a parking meter directly in front of us and that's when he screamed, "You're part of the reason I'm castrated!". That I did have an issue with, being that I had nothing to do with his castration nor did I have any knowledge of such a thing. In the end, I decided it best to just let that false accusation slide and focus on not getting torn to pieces by this raving beast man. We just stood our ground and slowly eased ourselves out of the situation as calmly and assertively as we could before running into a coffee shop and hiding. Kind of like how I saw people deal with an aggressive elephant on TV.
You can see all of Andy Kehoe's work on his main site, or buy prints at his Etsy store.