Obituaries USA

Mike Kelley, 1954-2012

The 57-year-old Los Angeles artist was found dead in his home having apparently taken his own life

Mike Kelley

Last week, the Detroit-born, Los Angeles-based installation artist and musician, Mike Kelley, was found dead in his home in California, aged 57. According to police reports, his death on Wednesday 1 February appeared to be a suicide and an autopsy is being performed.

Kelley was among a second wave of contemporary artist emigrants to Los Angeles, moving there in 1978 to study at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, working with teachers such as John Baldessari and Laurie Anderson.

His early career was marked by its performative aspects, starting with the proto-punk band Destroy All Monsters, which he formed with fellow artists Jim Shaw, Niagara and Carey Loren in Detroit. After moving to Los Angeles, he continued performing with John Miller and Tony Oursler in the art band The Poetics.

Kelley became something of an icon to young artists in the US, perhaps because his rebellious nature did not stop him from having a successful career. Since his death, an impromptu memorial to the artist has popped up in an abandoned driveway nearby Kelley's home in Highland Park, Los Angeles, with artists and students leaving messages and stuffed animals (a regular feature in Kelley’s installation work) and lighting candles.

A message from his studio and friends, posted on Kelley’s official website, says: “Unstintingly passionate, habitually outspoken and immeasurably creative in every genre or material with which he took up… Mike was an irresistible force in contemporary art. For Mike history existed only to be reconstructed, memory was selective, faulty and wilful and life itself vibrant but often dysfunctional. We can hear him disagreeing with us. We cannot believe he is gone. But we know his legacy will continue to touch and challenge anyone who crosses its path. We will miss him. We will keep him with us.”

To read an interview with Mike Kelley, which we published in our March 2004 issue, in connection with his exhibition at Tate Liverpool, "Mike Kelley: The Uncanny", see the link above or click here.

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