More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid

February 3, 2012

Been thinking about this a lot the past two days and I think it bears sharing: I wouldn’t be an artist if it weren’t for Mike Kelley.  I haven’t really followed the last decade of Kelley’s work, and I never met him or knew him at all or knew what kind of person he was or much about his life at all.  What I know is that when I wanted to be an artist but didn’t feel like I could do it because I didn’t have a formal education, I discovered Mike Kelley’s work at the Milwaukee Public Library, specifically the work leading from Destroy All Monsters up through the mid-’90s and the materials Kelley used and the way he used them didn’t tell me I didn’t need training, it showed me that you could do whatever you wanted (more or less) in your art and it didn’t have to take a traditional form and it could incorporate things you found at thrift stores and hardware stores and craft stores and wasn’t just the province of learning to draw and then progressing in a rigid linear fashion until you accrued some kind of art credentials.

What Kelley’s work showed me was that if I had an idea for an artwork I could just pursue it.  I didn’t have to ask for permission.  And while my work ended up being funneled through photography and except for my thesis show doesn’t resemble Kelley’s work in the slightest, I owe him a lot.  Even my decision to go to CalArts was influenced by Kelley’s description of it, and sure, I could’ve just gone to Art Center and actually studied with him but the point wasn’t to make work like his, it was to make my own work, and the evidence I could find of the Helter Skelter show and stuff I found on Paul McCarthy only strengthened my resolve that (having never visited it) Los Angeles should be the place I should go.  So I did.  And I went to CalArts.  And now I know I don’t need permission, and learning that was as instructive as anything I ever learned at CalArts or from a book.  So thanks, Mike.  You changed my life.

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