Comic strip cesspools, used as metaphors for humiliation, and tattered crocheted toys that whittle away at society’s sexual role playing make up the recent handiwork of artist Mike Kelley. Weird yet amazingly familiar, his drawings and objects nag at the human conscience by using things from everyday life rather than the realm of high art. In his hands, the Sunday funnies and all the stuff grandma ever knitted the kids for Christmas become part of a larger narrative. It’s a raucous conversation packing a truck load of disappointment in the human condition.
Kelley clothes his moral dissatisfaction in an irreverent Benny Hill attitude that takes aim at all sorts of structures of supposed superiority. Even the whitened sanctuary of the gallery is not immune. This exhibit is hip deep in thrift shop bargains. The floors and walls are littered with used, handmade stuffed toys roughly sewn and bound together in a “Manly Craft” parody of the womanly arts. The brutality of the gesture forcibly confronts social attitudes towards masculinity, craft, play and sex. In Kelley’s art every hand-stitched memento comes with an emotional edge of controlled violence rather than romantic nostalgia.
Kelley’s hokey, tattered materials return art to the immediacy of the real world just as the cartoon drawing’s irreverence uses art to question the value of human life and the nature of dignity. Part of the enjoyment of his work is that it deals so intelligently with vital issues of ethics and morality--even if they do come wrapped in a Hefty cinch sack like a muttering street person. (Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 669 N. La Cienega Blvd., to April 29.)