"More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid" and "The Wages Of Sin" (1987); photo from Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts
I've been a visual artist since I was old enough to understand that a magic marker could leave an indelible mark on the carpet of my parents rental home. I knew that mark-making and creating visuals was important, but I did not know why. I don't think my journey to understanding art started until 2010.
I was in a frustrating place in life. I hated my job and I hated the routine that I had allowed to creep into existence. This was, in fact, the period in my beloved's life that, according to her, she ceased to love me. I made a decision to leave the comfort of a life I didn't really want to be living and applied to graduate school. At the time, I was fanatical about a group of Los Angeles artists who had made a huge impact on the art world in the late 1980s and early 90s. But, among this group of rebels who would, by the nature of pop-culture become the establishment (that included Jim Shaw, John Miller, and Paul McCarthy) was the great Mike Kelley. Mike was my favorite artist ever. I'd never come across work that was so intellectual, so well crafted, and so cool - all at the same time. I knew it was smart work, but I didn't understand it. I applied to Art Center College of Design and was eventually accepted into their Graduate Fine Art program where Mike Kelley was a professor. My beloved wanted me to leave the family behind and get through graduate school alone. I had no interest in leaving the family behind. My daughter was 9 at the time and my son was 15. So, the family went with me. I would guess again that this was perceived as some form of control by my former wife.
The first day of class I was walking around everywhere desperately trying to find Mike Kelley and hoping that he was going to be a key figure in my education. I couldn't find his office. I was unable to locate him in the directory. I finally asked another professor about Mike (who could see my embarrassingly star-stricken posture) and he informed me that Mike had recently left Art Center. Needless to say, I was pretty bummed about it. It turned out to be a wonderful experience though. I was privileged to be studying under some of the greatest minds in the art world at that time. These film makers, critics, curators, philosophers, and artists were the best of the best and helped to shape and form a new direction in my life. And, there was icing on the cake when Mike came to talk to my class one Tuesday evening. Just one year later, Mr. Kelley committed suicide. So heartbreaking.
Concerning "More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid", Mr. Kelley said:
[It] wasn’t even about stuffed animals, it was about gifts…There were these Utopian ideas being bandied about [in the art world]: “Well, we can make an art object that can’t be commodified.” What’s that? That’s a gift… It’s going to escape the evils of capitalism. Well, of course that’s ridiculous, because if you give this thing to junior, he owes you something. The most terrible thing is that he doesn’t know what he owes you because there’s no price on the thing. Basically, gift-giving is like indentured slavery or something. There’s no price, so you don’t know how much you owe. The commodity is the emotion… I said if each one of these toys took 600 hours to make then that’s 600 hours of love; and if I gave this to you, you owe me 600 hours of love; and that’s a lot. And if you can’t pay it back right away, [the interest] keeps accumulating… That’s more love than you could ever pay back. So what? You’re just fucked then.
This piece has haunted me since August of last year. The "beloved" decided to move out of town. Today's post is already way too long so I won't get into all the strange details of that situation. But, the short of it is that I helped her pack and vacate her house. She had divorced me a year earlier and we still had not rummaged through or discussed our life's accumulation. She was in a strange hurry to leave town and I was pretty much left alone with the task of packing up every item in her house and taking it to storage. I took a week off from work and hurriedly made about a dozen trips between house and storage space.
I've made weekly visits to this storage facility since August to sort through things. I've made many trips to donation centers, filled up countless bags of recyclables and pure junk. I've mailed packages to my son in Los Angeles and boxed up sentimental items my daughter plans to take with her when she leaves home. There was not a single thing in there I wanted and it is all waiting my former wife to claim. Since she no longer has any contact with me, I struggle with knowing what to do. I still make a visit about every other week to see if there's anything else I can discard or give to the kids. But I don't want any of it and I'll feel guilty if I just quit paying for the space.
Every time I open the doors, Kelley's piece pops into my mind. I know it's all temporary - material junk. I know it's all "moth and rust". But it is a lifetime of memories. How many hours of "love" are in that unit? I honestly think that my former love is void of any sentimental attachment related to anything in that space. But, I could be wrong. Maybe she just leaves it in my hands because if she were to open that door then she too would be faced with the question of how does one repay 26 years of love. I certainly realize it is just stuff. When it comes down to it, it means absolutely nothing. But visually it remains a haunted testimony of our life together and the tragedy of love lost.