Local artist Mike Kelley died Tuesday night, apparently having taken his own life. While his death came as a shock to fans and art world colleagues alike (his work will appear in the Whitney Biennial next month) Artillery magazine editor Tulsa Kinney was less surprised.
She interviewed Kelley, who had been an acquaintance for more than a decade, at his Highland Park office in November, and sensed then that something was wrong. Kelley seemed depressed and spoke openly about ending his career.
“When I first heard the news that Mike Kelley was dead, I knew it was suicide,” she says. “I had been thinking about him a lot, and during our brief exchange—approximately two months of back and forth emails, phone calls, and the interview—we had been very communicative, though mostly from a professional standpoint. When the magazine came out, I heard from Mike that he liked the article, but then the communication stopped. I guess the sudden cut-off was starting to feel weird to me. I felt like I needed to check in on him, because I really was concerned about him. The very night he passed away, I was thinking I should call him or drop him a line and see how he was doing.”
Kinney says she’ll most remember Kelley for the heart of his work. “I thought just about everything he did was brilliant,” she says. “I admired him as an artist who was unpretentious and soulful. He was very giving. And he was sensitive. And he broke all the rules. I feel like he gave me a gift with his interview.”
Kinney’s profile of Mike Kelley appears in the issue of Artillery on newsstands now.
Photograph by Tyler Hubby for Artillery magazine