He was 57 years old and committed suicide.
I never heard of Mike Kelley until yesterday, when I read, first, his obituary, and then whatever Google would give me about him. How did I miss out on Mike Kelley and his work??? He was a contemporary of mine, only a few years older than I am. He grew up in Detroit but left for graduate school when I was in college, so I had just missed him when I moved there in 1980. He was in a band called Destroy All Monsters during my punk years, and lived and worked in LA, where I used to spend some time in the 80s. He has shown in seven Whitney Biennials and will be in the upcoming show, his eighth; I have been to at least three Whitney Biennials and find it unbelievable that I don't remember seeing his work at all.
from Auction House Records.
Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
His work is just so cool; this piece is made from found fabrics, stuffed animals ("plush," to the trade) and other "deodorized" (so love that) objects and materials. I want to see his work in person so badly now and walk among these "satellites," these disembodied shapes. Judging from the images I've been poring over, the pieces are beautifully crafted, and the details from the individual items used in the assemblages add a whole 10 layers or so to the meaning and gestalt of the work. I am now such a fan, and damn!, he had to die before I found him.
Frakenstein, 1989 - © Mike Kelley
Sewn, stuffed animals, basket with spools of thread,pincushion, felt
Because hasn't everyone had at least one scary stuffie?
It sometimes seems that great art comes from such sorrow and sadness. Think Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Vincent van Gogh. I read that Mike Kelley was depressed after a bad break-up, but also had become so disillusioned at the corporate art world, the ridiculous money and the celebrity hype. "He really wanted to be an important artist, and he worked all of his life for that. He found himself at the top of his game and then found that the world he was at the top of was a world that he didn't like," according to Emi Fontana, a contemporary-art curator and former girlfriend.
He certainly seemed at the peak of his powers, just like another famous suicide whose work I admire, Alexander McQueen. I'm imagining that the two of them would have hit it off famously; who knows, perhaps they had met and were friends. Somehow, their work has similarities -- the punk aesthetic, the creation of new shapes from fabrics, the sure way with pattern and texture mixing, the impeccable craftmanship.
from the famous "Highland Rape" collection.
Amazingly, no one gave him too hard a time about the name.
The creation of great art is a solitary pursuit, and these two men, although surrounded by admirers and famous for their work, were still all alone and full of despair and disappointment. I'm so very sorry that they are gone. I am grateful for the inspiration their work provides. I wish I could have met and known them.