During his time at CalArts, Kelley started to work on a series of projects in which he explored works with loose poetic themes, such as The Sublime, Monkey Island and Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile, using a variety of different media such as drawing, painting, sculpture, performance, video, and writing. In the 1980s he became known for working with another type of material: crocheted blankets, fabric dolls and other rag toys found at thrift stores and yard sales. Perhaps the most famous work in this vein, More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid from 1987, featured a mess of used rag dolls, animals and blankets strewn across a canvas, a way of investing a fictional childhood scene with some visceral pathos which was first shown at Rosamund Felsen Gallery in Los Angeles. In 1988, Kelley created an installation called Pay for Your Pleasure, which featured a gallery of portraits of men of genius — poets, philosophers and artists included — subverted at the end by a painting created by a convicted criminal. In From My Institution to Yours (1988) and Proposal for the Decoration of an Island of Conference Rooms (1992), Kelly appropriated photocopied drawings and other ephemera of vernacular office humor and moved it into more formalized environments where such crude materials are normally not seen.
Kelley often employed soft, tangled toys as a satirical metaphor for Expressionist art. In Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites (1991–99), an installation sculpture made from untidy clusters of toys suspended from the ceiling, a dozen monochrome plush-toy spheres, linked by a system of cables and pulleys across the ceiling, orbit around a central, rainbow-colored blob; ten large, geometrically faceted, brightly colored wall-reliefs are actually monumental dispensers of pine-scented air freshener, which automatically send their cleansing spray into the room at timed intervals.http://www.goodwill.org