Issue 65 is off to the printer, and we will reveal our cover soon! As part of our countdown to the new issue, art editor Leslie Vega has interviewed our cover artist, Andy Kehoe. Kehoe creates evocative work in both the traditional and digital realms. With nods to mythopoetic fantasy and folklore, his paintings feature figures so small that you may not notice them ensconced in trees and moonlight. These animal-human hybrids beckon us into Dante’s dark forest or a Grimm’s fairytale, and we really wouldn’t mind joining them.
Leslie Vega: Tell me a bit about your process. Does it differ between your paintings and your digital works? They look remarkably similar.
Andy Kehoe: The process with my traditional and digital paintings is actually pretty similar in a lot of ways, especially in the beginning stages. With both mediums, I have pieces that are very planned out, which will involve detailed sketches and some black-and-white studies. Then I have paintings that are more loose and improvisational. I’ll just start throwing paint and textures down —whether they be oil paints or pixels— and see where it takes me. I also tend to work in layers from back to front, which I do with both mediums.
The major difference is the crazy flexibility of digital work. I can move and rescale different components or change the entire color palette on the fly. There is so much freedom to experiment, readjust, and improvise. [I] love that aspect of working in digital.
Oh, and I can also finish a digital painting in days to weeks, instead of months with my traditional work. With digital, I can get my ideas down and out there into the world rather quickly, which is awesome. With traditional painting, the process is much more prolonged so my initial concept often evolves and shifts with what has inspired me and affected my life along the way. That brings a different quality to the work, which I very much love and appreciate.
LV: Your work is influenced by fantasy and sci-fi art, which has been heavily shaped by epic poetry, myth, folk tales, 19th– and 20th-century fantasy, and current speculative fiction. What are your go-to works of poetry or literature to draw upon for inspiration?
AK: Folklore and fairy tales really shaped my young, imaginative mind when I was growing up. There’s a certain indescribable feeling that those stories gave me, which was amplified by the fact that I was young, and all of life was a mystery. Much of my work is trying to tap back into that specific feeling and to bring some mystery back into people’s lives. It’s a tough thing to do these days, with all the answers to the universe at our finger tips—living a constant existence peeking behind the curtain. I feel like this breeds a real desire for worlds that encompass mystery and diverge from the mundane, such as the realms of fantasy and sci-fi.
Currently, I listen to a lot of audio books as I work, with the vast majority being in the fantasy genre. The biggest draw to fantasy writing for me is the world building. Creating a believable world where unbelievable things happen is some tricky business and also a such a tantalizing prospect. Authors like Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch, and Joe Abercrombie excel at creating very rich, unique, detailed worlds that you can lose yourself in. This kind of imaginative thinking really fuels my creative mind while working.
LV: And who are your favorite illustrators?
AK: Some contemporary artists I love are Aron Wiesenfeld, Kilian Eng, Boris Pelcer, and James Jean. I’m also inspired by legendary fantasy artists like Michael Whelan and Paul Lehr, and painters like 19th Century Romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich.
LV: Working both in traditional painting as well as digital, what do you think about AI generated art applications such as DALL.E 2?
AK: The debate on AI art is a tricky, layered one. Kind of a mess right now. A real mixed bag scenario. On one hand, it’s very cool technology that makes some truly amazing imagery. It’s also really fun to see what crazy things you can come up with and get immediate results.
On the other hand, it’s creating this imagery by training its AI through the use of copyrighted imagery without artists’ consent. That’s a big negative and a big problem. I’ve rarely seen any technology go so quickly from “Wow this is cool” to “This is a travesty. Burn it all down!” The vitriol for AI art in the community is intense because of this non-consensual image usage. An uproar I totally agree with.
We are definitely wading into unknown legal territory in which distinctive boundaries will (hopefully) have to be drawn. It feels like this technology is here to stay, so where those lines end up is anyone’s guess, but [it] will have ever-lasting ramifications for visual artists. I know music IP is protected very staunchly by the law, and the industry would not put up with this kind of unfettered usage one bit. I’m hoping visual art can be treated equally.
Personally, I have played around with Midjourney and I’ve used it as a tool to work through concepts and to get some fresh perspectives. But I’ve never used it to make completed art work and never would. Interestingly, I can just use my own name in the prompts to get a new concept inspired by my paintings… but that also means my copyrighted work is in the database without my consent. Since I’m the original artist, is it then OK to used unlicensed images of my own work to create something new? Like I said, it’s a mixed, convoluted bag.
LV: Do you have any projects in the works that you’d like to share?
AK: I have a Patreon page where I’ve been making a digital painting every month and posting it. That’s where I post most of my new work these days.
This year I have a couple [of] group shows, then next year I have a solo show at Outré Gallery in Melbourne, Australia. The best way to keep updated is to sign up for my newsletter, which can be found in the contact page on my website.