Unrealism with Andy Kehoe November 24 2020

Andy Kehoe was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and still lives there today. From an early age, he loved cartoons, comics, and story books – all fuelling his imagination. Shortly after graduating from high school, Andy explored a number of different art schools before settling in to the illustration course at Parsons School of Design in New York. After dabbling in commercial illustration for a short time, Andy decided it was time to focus on his personal work. Andy’s work has since been exhibited and collected internationally.

His paintings incorporate narratives of mystery and mysticism; of the grandeur of nature; of magic and spiritual adventure. Always challenging himself and experimenting with new techniques, Andy's most recent work incorporates intricately modelled sculptural elements submerged within layers of poured resin and paint.

Interview by Viet-My Bui and Airiel Flevell. Photos supplied by Andy Kehoe.

Tell us the origins of your art-making journey. Was it a linear path or full of winding turns?

I'd say it was a bit of both. It has been linear in the sense that I have always wanted to create and make art and that motivation has continually propelled me forward. The journey itself has been full of twists and turns. At first, I thought I wanted to work in animation which then led me to illustration. Illustration led me to multimedia and I then found a path back to illustration. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to find gallery work, which fulfilled me for years. Now I again find myself growing on a whole new endeavor with digital painting and I’m excited to see where that will take me. Like anything worthwhile, there are unforeseen struggles, failures, opportunities, and successes. Those unanticipated factors have ultimately shaped my career and current creative journey. In the end, I want to keep creating and keep it going wherever it may lead.

The characters that inhabit your artworks are often lost in their sprawling surrounds. Is there a continuity to narratives in your pieces, and the worlds you create? How long have these worlds existed for you?

At this point in my work, there is no continuity in a strict narrative sense. At first, years ago, I had a straight forward and allegorical approach to my imagery. After time passed, the ideas came more naturally and more focused on an emotional resonance rather than the ‘story’ of it. Overall, I want to create a place where people are able to emotionally reside for some amount of time and narrate their own stories. Folks finding their own stories within my work is more satisfying for me.

Since your last show with us, you've been working more with digital art. What motivated you to use this new medium?

For practical reasons, I really wanted to diversify my artistic tools and adapt to the ever shifting world. I made a career out of gallery work for over a decade but realized my skill set was pretty limited. I will always love showing my work in galleries and at the same time I started to think about the day to day life as an artist. I wanted to find new ways to create and new ways to apply it. I had several comfortable years as an exhibition artist but its never been the model of consistency. Unfortunately I had a year of shaky gallery sales and everything in my life almost crumbled. That was horrifying for me. I never want to be in that position again. I cannot give up what I am: I have to create things for the world and I also have to find balance between giving all of me and none of me. With a digital skill set, I am still able to be creative and put focus more on prints which allows me to interact with a larger audience. The skillset also prepares me for other artistic opportunities that may arise outside of gallery exhibition.

And for non-practical reasons, digital painting just looked really damn fun. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do paint digitally and I love experimenting. The possibilities of this digital medium are very exciting and inspiring.

Describe your studio. Is it a welcome sanctuary of solitude, or are there challenges to the long stretches of time that you create on your own?

My creative space has always been a sanctuary but I’ve been working alone in my home studio for the past 8 years and the isolation started to wear on me. I had been hoping to get an external studio space before the pandemic but 2020 slid in like a jerk and decided to slap down the idealized notion of sharing a space with fellow creatives. Essentially it doubled down on the isolation. Luckily, I was able to find a pandemic safe studio space outside of our home in the countryside that allows me to travel away from home and into some beautiful scenery to paint. It’s a bit small and not a shared space – honestly, it is one I wouldn’t have considered had the pandemic not happened. That being said, I am working on my traditional paintings there and it has been a breath of fresh air that has helped my mental state immeasurably. I really needed an outside space to give me hope and inspiration and I was able to complete all of my paintings for this show within my new studio.

Your twin brother, Ben Kehoe, is also a visual artist. How does this relationship – and that with the rest of your family – feed into your own creativity?

Our whole childhood was immersed in cartoons, comics, and drawing so we have an artistic bond between that will always be strong. He’s a very skilled painter and didn’t go to school for art ,so he’s had to learn everything on his own. His sensibilities are very unique and I love his ideas, which are really out there. His humor is so odd and his work really echoes it. At the moment, he’s pursuing his other passion of nature and outdoors which led to him become a Park Ranger. I’m so proud of him and it’s so cool he followed this passion. He is going full force in the Ranger business so his painting is on a bit of a hiatus. When things settle down a bit, I’m sure he’ll get back to it and I look forward to seeing what he creates.

Your artworks often seem like they are visions from a dream. What are your dreams like, and are you a lucid dreamer?

Some people, like my wife Ash, might say that I’m too much of a lucid dreamer. I recently shook her awake at 3 A.M. and asked her repeatedly, “Do you hear that?” (Which as an avid true crime fan, was not the most calming question she could hear at that hour.) I then went on to mumble something about troops on the ground and that everyone having a weapon because they were coming for us. Not sure what that dream was about but it seemed action-packed and rattled Ash so much that she couldn’t go back to sleep. She works really early, oops.

I love my dreams. Aside from the apparent post-apocalyptic war resistance force I was organizing, I also visit truly amazing and beautiful places that make my heart ache when I think of them. It brings up a feeling that I can’t quite describe, not exactly joy and not exactly melancholy. These dreams very much inspire my work, but for the most part, they aren’t visual representations. That particular, undefinable feeling I get when I think of my own dreamlands is what I want to bring into my work for everyone else.

You have another upcoming show at Outré Gallery. Tell us about the inspiration behind the show, and your approach to creating the works for the exhibition.

After the nightmare that has been 2020 for the entire world, I really needed to find solace within the madness. Its especially crazy with the pandemic because Ash works in healthcare and she’s out there surrounded by the stark reality of it. She’s been amazingly strong through all of this but that first hand account brings a whole new level of crushing anxiety with it. Luckily we’re a good team and we’re on the same page with our precautions, which we’ve been very strict about. Being cut off from friends and family really, really sucks but one extremely shitty year is better than no more years… but goddamn do we miss everyone. It definitely wears on you.

I wanted to use my work as a respite and hope that others may do the same. Memories of a normal life feels like a fantasy and nothing feels familiar anymore. With the absence of familiarity in my life, I found myself reflecting and living in a place of extraordinary nostalgia. Which I think subconsciously led me to revisiting old familiar faces and motifs in my work. Since we haven’t been able to surround ourselves in friends or family, I thought I’d bring them back from my paintings. It has certainly brought me a certain kind of joy and comfort to revisit these themes and characters.

You are a storyteller by nature, and the titles of your pieces show your wordsmithery. Tell us a story about yourself that most would not know.

Haha. I do love wordsmithing and I really love to spin a strange tale. I actually dedicated my About section on my website to wild tales about myself so I would travel there for the goods.

Has this year prompted any personal epiphanies for you and/or your art practice?

I think we all share 2020 as a tough year and we are all collectively looking forward to a new start. I hope 2021 will bring some semblance of normalcy. Please 2021. Be better, I beg of you. I have seen unbelievable idiotic and selfish during this pandemic, particularly here in the US. Honestly it has made me lose a little faith in humanity. At the same time I have seen people come together in awe inspiring ways that truly lifted my heart. Everything is so amplified right now and the highs and lows are so extreme. The world is in need of some healing and I hope we can start to move forward.

As for my work, I feel like I’ve once again hit a nice creative stride. I’m happy with my digital painting progress, especially thinking of where I was with it a couple years ago when I was just starting out. Felt like such a daunting task.
It is strange that as shit as the state of the world has been, I find myself in a more creative place. Which is the way art works right? We all need to create to help others and ourselves.