From God’s Oasis to the City of Angels

Quote

Mike and I were just two peas in a pod—the weirdest guys there.
Jim Shaw

Photo of God’s Oasis in The Ann Arbor News, Wednesday, June 23, 1976. Pictured from left: Marju Nemvaltz, Rick Greenvald, and Jim Shaw on the porch; David Owen and Mike Kelley on lawn. Photo: Larry E. Wright. Image courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Introduction

In the early 1970s, two self-proclaimed misfits, Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, met as undergrad students at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. As Shaw recalls, "I remember running into Mike in the hall outside the figure drawing studio. We both looked weird, so I guess our weird-dar was operating. I remember a conversation about whether Jethro Tull was a legit art band circa Thick as a Brick, but memory is faulty." 1

In 1973, Kelley and Shaw put up flyers around the university, publicizing fake lectures. When students would show up, they would be confronted by guerrilla-style performances such as a man reading from his porn collection, a Futurist ballet, and experiments with noise. These performances were the impetus for the formation of Destroy All Monsters in 1974.

The performance collective and proto-punk experimental noise band Destroy All Monsters included a motley group of students, including Shaw and Kelley alongside filmmaker Cary Loren, and artist/singer Niagara. Their first public concert occurred when they crashed a comic convention. The concert was described by the universities news as:

"The sounds of a vacuum cleaner, a coffee can, and a violin. It was an unusual version of Black Sabbath’s "Iron Man" that was being played by the newly formed proto-punk band Destroy All Monsters. . . A while later, someone unplugged their speakers and the show was over." 2

Jim Shaw Video

Jim Shaw recounts how his friendship with Mike Kelley evolved into the band Destroy All Monsters, which in turn developed into a "continuum" of collective music and artistry.

Grow Live Monsters Video

Cary Loren's Destroy All Monsters: That's My Ideal featuring music by Destroy All Monsters.

God’s Oasis

Destroy All Monsters practiced in Kelley's bedroom, which was in the basement of a house at 741 Packard Road, Ann Arbor. They called the place "God's Oasis Drive-In Church" and despite its utopian name, Kelley recalls Shaw describing the house as a “garbage dump with a path running through it.”

Image

Cary Loren, Mike Kelley, John Reed, and Jim Shaw in the basement of God’s Oasis, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1975/2011. Gelatin silver print on fiber paper; 20 × 24 in. (50.8 × 61 cm). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Shaw moves into God’s Oasis

After Shaw graduated in 1974, he moved into God's Oasis to live with Kelley where they continued to collaborate.

Image

Cary Loren, Jim Shaw, Ron Asheton, Mike Kelley at the Second Chance, Ann Arbor (performance of New Order), 1975. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Moving to L.A.

Upon Kelley's graduation from University of Michigan in 1976, he and Shaw escaped Michigan for the promising new art scene of Los Angeles. They both enrolled in the California Institute of the Arts, where Douglas Huebler was one of their teachers. While in school, Kelley and Shaw lived together in a house in the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Kelley met Stephen Prina at CalArts and invited him to play keyboard in his band, Gobbler.

In 1978, Kelley and Shaw received MFAs from CalArts. The two frequently collaborated and were both later included in Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s, an important exhibition at the Geffen Contemporary of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, that brought renewed attention to the city’s artists whose recent work, according to the exhibition’s catalogue, “portray[ed] the darker sides of contemporary life.”

Kelley threw himself into making it big in the art world. Shaw, however, felt jaded by his experience and tried for several years to find success in Hollywood, working as an animator at various special effects studios from 1979 to 1984. While at Robert Abel and Associates studio, Shaw realized he had stopped thinking about his own art and began investing himself into My Mirage, a collection of nearly 170 works that tells the story of a man drawn into the subcultures of the 1960s and 1970s. This project was featured in the recent exhibition Michigan Stories: Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw at the MSU Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Image

Poster for Beat of the Traps, performance by artists Mike Kelley, Anita Pace, and Stephen Prina, 1992. Gindi Auditorium, University of Judaism, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of Track 16.

1992

In 1992 artists were reunited in various capacities throughout the community. This is the year that Kelley joins Prina teaching at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena where they influence the next generation of artists. Kelley and Prina collaborate with Anita Pace on a performance combining choreographed dance and two live drummers called Beat of the Traps (1992). And this is also the year that Shaw and LA-based artist Marnie Weber meet. Marnie recalls just over a year later, after they married–

We had been married for maybe six to eight months without actually moving all of our stuff in together. And I thought to myself, well, maybe Jim would be more enthusiastic about moving if I could find a place near Mike. . . . So I went over to Mike's house, and I just started driving around, looking for signs. And I drove up this hill and I saw a sign on this house. And we called. And after much work and negotiating, we got the house. Jim fixed the upstairs for his studio. And it was nice because Mike was down the hill. And we would go and have barbecues and dinners and play music and it was really a fun community at that time. Diana Thater lived next door, and Kelly Mason, and there was a lot of other people around. Anita—Mike was with Anita Pace at the time. So it was a real community.
Marnie Weber

Anita Pace Video

Anita Pace explains her interest in collaboration, including with Mike Kelley and Stephen Prina on the performance Beat of the Traps.

Geisha This Section

Destroy All Monsters' original members (Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara, and Jim Shaw) reunited in 1995 and performed reunion shows in the Ann Arbor/Detroit area. They also republished all six issues of Destroy All Monsters Magazine and published the book Destroy All Monsters: Geisha This, the definitive collection of materials featured in the Destroy All Monsters Magazine from 1976 to 1979. Loren explains the rationale behind the book's name:

“It’s as if some guy asked this girl, ‘Want to be my geisha?’ and she says, ‘Geisha this!’ She’s like saying, ‘Take This! Fuck you. I’m nobody’s geisha.’”

Dolphin Explosion

Kelley stayed close with Shaw and Weber, and when they gave birth to a baby girl, Colette, in 1999 it wasn't long before musical collaborations continued. When Colette was seven, Kelley asked to play drums for Dolphin Explosion, Collette and her friend Ariel West's band. Their first gig was opening for Weber's band in Chinatown in 2006. That same year Kelley recorded and produced the full-length album, Boogie Man, himself with Colette and Ariel's artwork on the packaging. The titular track was a song written by Weber Shaw and West for Kelley.

Video

Dolphin Explosion performs "Boogie Man" at High Energy Constructs in Los Angeles, 2006.

Text