Thursday, April 04, 2013

Authors on Artists: Hannah Stephenson on Andy Kehoe

Recapturing the Forest Monster: Andy Kehoe’s Creatures
by Hannah Stephenson

I’m on an ongoing quest for a pop-up edition of The Wizard of Oz that my dad and I would read together when I was young. I’ve looked online, in used bookstores, and in libraries, and haven’t found it yet. In this edition, there was a chapter on The Forest Monster: a terrifying, many-eyed spider. In an effort to make him seem more friendly, my dad ripped him out of the book, and we would take turns hiding The Forest Monster for each other---in sock drawers, lunch boxes, and on the fridge. Neither my dad nor I can find our kidnapped Forest Monster, or the pop-up book in which it was featured. I feel sure that the book is out there somewhere, waiting for me to rediscover it. I don’t remember what the cover looks like, but I’ll know it when I see it.

In looking at certain pieces of art, I have that Recapturing the Forest Monster feeling. Here is the treasure you alone have been seeking, the art that we love whispers to us.

Lord of Ghouls

It’s what I feel when looking at Andy Kehoe’s art. There are no giant, grotesque spiders in his forests--but there are large creatures, sad-eyed, gentle, lonely, and a bit scared of us. Antlered, bunny-eared, shadowy figures have stepped into view. Consider Lord of Ghouls, taller than the trees, crowned with either flames or pale spirits. He’s walking through the fog, and stops to stare at us (maybe we startled him) with glowing, round eyes.

Kehoe’s creatures aren’t always alone in these images. Sometimes they clutch little buddies (like the wolf in Call Forth the Seed of Winter--he carries a small, toothlike being with white branches growing from it---and several of the larger beasts have a cat or pet in the crook of an arm). 

Call Forth the Seed of Winter

In my favorite pieces by Kehoe, there is a gorgeously-layered, starry sky, and the creature is shown with a companion of equal size (most beautifully demonstrated in Together at the Threshold--we see the backs of the silhouettes of two beings holding hands beneath the bare trees, gazing out at a sky that looks like a foggy Milky Way. Poignantly, Kehoe’s description notes that he made this for his wife).

Together at the Threshold

There is a disarming privacy to Kehoe’s paintings, an intimacy that his beasts build with the viewer (and sometimes, with one another). There is a paused story-in-progress that we are witnessing, like pages torn from a picture book (think Where the Wild Things Are, or Runaway Bunny). A lost personal artifact, rediscovered. Art provides us a space to stand in while we respond and remember, like a souvenir in reverse (a place in which to remember a thing).

I miss the Forest Monster, as it turns out. Poor guy. In that pop-up book, it was ugly and alone, its many eyes bugging out at Dorothy and Co. (and the reader). What fear did this monster feel, looking out at its readers, when it should have felt safe. In a dark forest, pressed between the pages of a book, in the shelf of a dusty bookstore somewhere, a companionless creature waits for me. Patiently.


Hannah Stephenson is a poet, editor, and instructor living in Columbus, Ohio. Her poems have appeared recently in Huffington Post, Contrary, MAYDAY, qarrtsiluni, and The Nervous Breakdown; her full-length collection, In the Kettle, the Shriek, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press (October 2013). She is the founder of Paging Columbus!, a literary arts monthly event series. You can visit her daily poetry site, The Storialist.