Yes, we made that. Together and apart, under a spectral influence.
There was one soul who started it and another and another, all of it combining and agglomerating, collected compassion, unabashed sentimentality, gratitude and grief. Neither elitist nor crass, all at once scruffy and cleansing, soft and hard. A shrine, maybe, even if it enshrined would handily sneer at his affiliation with such roadside divinity.
Not unlike the working class, from which he and many of us come, artists often work with their hands, channeling serpentine thoughts and emotions through the simplicity of the tangible and the visible. They make things. Love and care, desperation and anxiety, grief and suffering are made manifest. Grandmotherly love possibly crochets you a blanket or sews up a sock monkey, a gift of time, hours of the click-click of crochet needles and the familiar song of a Singer sewing machine, the needle beating a rhythm like a hummingbird’s heart. Some people of course just buy things, love, memory, but grief is neither bought nor sold. Wreaths and flowers somehow feel rote. Memorial services with hired MCs more tradition than memory.
One can’t sell a scar, a caress, an epiphany; to ritualize a person is to perhaps reduce them to dumb motions.
This is about class and control, empathy and nostalgia, the darkness creeping always along the edges of modern life marred often by rough-handed capitalism, the way affection and emotion can and cannot be carried by objects, about a democratic access that never stoops to stupid populism.
This is about Mike Kelley, recently suicided. This is about his memorial, the one we made for a hometown hero, a teacher, a friend, a distant inspiration, an unknown quantity spoken about by others with awe, a pugilist, a punk, a poet, now dead.
On Tipton Way in Highland Park, just off Figueroa, friends and fans, neighbors and students, allies and lovers have pierced all the chaff that surrounds the life of a famous artist and in a whitewashed carport for a torn-down house revealed the core beauty and importance of this significant artist. Fame sucks, the onslaught of attention irritates and often destroys the sensitive brilliance that brought it there, an old story. Kelley always despised false biographical readings, so we’ll refrain from one here.
Perhaps there’s no easy narrative, but simply tragedy.
His memorial has taken on the title of two famous works by Kelley, the first of a new era for the artist, called More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and the Wages of Sin. It’s a title, doubled together, that sings more truly with each repetition.
On Tipton Way the afghans flap in the breeze, the stuffed animals quietly congregate around the flickering wicks in the mountain of wax. The graffiti feels deeply personal, hand-written, raw and human, sometimes funny, often heartbreaking, the scrawl of yearbooks and diaries.
Though art in its way is a communication, an artist with himself, with his community, with all the art that came before it, with each individual member of an audience. Art is a human stain, evidence of one soul’s struggle that helps give shape and empathy to our struggle: political, aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional.
Unknowingly built, posthumous as it is, the memorial on Tipton Way is Mike Kelley’s final installation, made by him through us, his influence bending our thoughts, guiding our hands, giving a little succor to our own struggle even as his is finally over.
Though Kelley requested after his death no memorials, we too are punks and pugilists and have taken his memorial in our own hands. Not only on Tipton Way, but at both the Museum of Contemporary of Art, Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County of Museum of Art have hung works by the artist in tribute. Many friends and artists have assembled an honorary show at Long Beach City College as well. And on February 25 at 9pm to February 26 at 9pm, in Mike’s old studio, the Farley Building, there will be a twenty-four-hour screening of his videowork, 1669 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90041.
Top Image: Shot of Mike Kelley's Memorial. 5086 Tipton Way, LA. Courtesy of Caren Spitler and Mor Lovehours via Facebook.