Friday, January 28th, 2011 | 4 Comments
The characters in Andy Kehoe’s paintings inhabit a place frozen between the last golden days of autumn and the coming dead of winter. Similarly, their lives seem stuck between some previous idyllic period where nature was untamed, and the encroaching trappings of civilization. For his upcoming show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York, the Pittsburgh-based painter continues to evolve his complex, wild and melancholy world.
We’ve come to love many of the characters in your paintings (in particular the one made of spectral white vines and disembodied blue eyes, and the man wearing a helmet of blue leaves). Are the re-occurring scenes and people in your paintings a way of telling some on-going larger story?
There is definitely an overarching story going on, but it’s mostly day to day tales of strange characters in a strange world. I like feeling like a silent observer visiting an unknown, bizarre land and watching these characters from afar while chronicling their activities. There are certainly some characters that come to the forefront.
The spectral flower vines are some of the spirits that wander around. There is a whole spirit world that exists closely with the living world.
The veil separating the two is pretty thin, so there are regular encounters between the living and spirit world. Some of the more magical creatures live freely in both.
The blue-headed character is kind of a strange case. He’s a sort of weed and parasite that touches trees and takes them over to produce more blue leaves. His blue leaves have become valuable and often used as currency so he’s been kind of pulled into the civilized world. There are tales behind a lot of the characters. Hopefully I find a way to tell them all one day.
Can you tell us why some of the animals in your paintings are wearing suits, scarves, sweaters? Have they spent time in civilization?
There is more civilized part of the land that’s more practical… well, as practical as they can be I guess. They have things like clothes, leaders, laws and taxes and a lot of the bullshit we have to deal with everyday. There are also creatures that reside mostly in the forest and some outlying islands that live wildly and are more steeped in magic and nature.
You have a big solo show coming up this March at Jonathan Levine Gallery in New York. Do you have any special regimen for preparing for a show? Where did the idea for the show title “Strange Wanderings” come from?
I usually start my larger and more involved pieces first so I can work on them through out the first couple months or so. I use mostly oil paint so I have to plan out which paintings will take the longest and which paintings I can start later. Starting a show is always tough with all the planning that is involved and it’s definitely my least favorite part. Slow going. The first couple weeks are filled with priming wood, sketching, laying out and underpainting. Once I get going, I usually work on at least 6-8 paintings at one time. That way I always have a painting to work on while others are drying. I like it this way especially when I get deep into the paintings. Then I get into the details and everyday is a new journey and a new problem to solve. It’s exciting to see something you’ve been working on for months finally coming to life.
“Strange Wanderings” came from my move back to my hometown of Pittsburgh,PA from Portland, OR. My brother Ben, my mom and my grandma met me in Portland and we did a cross country trip and got to see Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower and the Badlands. It was a little overwhelming to see all that beauty on such a grand scale. I was endlessly inspired by everything I was seeing but another part of me was totally intimidated. As I was looking at all these natural wonders, I kept thinking, “How the hell can I compete with this? Nothing I can ever make will ever top this.” So a lot of the show deals with characters and creatures taking journeys and dealing with things larger than themselves and searching for where they fit in.
Your brother (Ben Kehoe) is an awesome artist as well. Do you influence each other? Any healthy competition?
I don’t know if we influence each other directly, but being twins, we definitely have a lot of the same influences by just growing up together. We’ve spent the better parts of our lives around each other so I’m sure a lot of themes exist in both our works. We aren’t competitive with each other at all. Even in other aspects, we usually avoid competing against each other because things will might get heated and we usually just feel bad for the one that lost. Haha. Yeah, it’s weird. Being on the same team is always much more fun. In that respect, we try to help each other out as much as possible when it comes to artwork. I wish him as much success as possible.
If you weren’t a painter, in an alternate universe you’d be …
hockey player/crime fighter/playboy
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Of course, I’m looking forward to my shows coming up this year. I’ve got the Jonathan LeVine show in March and my first show with Roq La Rue in October. Amazing year for shows! I’ll be taking a road trip in between to do a couple weeks of camping which should be awesome.