Mike Kelley, who was 57 when he took his life, gave arrested development a good name. Hugely influential, he didn’t so much burst onto the art scene — at first mostly in Los Angeles and then around the world — as burst through it, because in the early ’80s there was no clear place for him to land. The galleries were filling with fulsome neo-Expressionism and postmodern art about art. Having acted up in art-rock bands at school, he preferred scuffling performance art and scabrous drawing. Later he took to raucous installations, like 2005’s Day Is Done, an intense meditation on high school yearbook pictures. And with work made from old stuffed animals bunched and sewn together — like More Love Hours than Can Ever Be Repaid, his 1987 magnum opus — he managed to mock sentimentality and put it to his own crafty uses. Other artists had played with the pathos of discarded things. Kelley literally brought the feelings home.
This text originally appeared in the Feb. 20, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.
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