Art exhibit at convention center celebrates life lost too soon

In the family dynamic, siblings often know more about each other than parents.

So when Mary and Rick McMullen couldn't access the password-protected photos taken by their late son, Mikey, it was his brother who cracked the code.

Mary said her oldest son decided to try a number the boys used to access their school lunch accounts through the Monroe County Community School Corp.

"It was the thing that unlocked everything," Mary said.

Some of those photos will be on display in June at the Monroe Convention Center Art Gallery.

Mikey's death is still a raw emotion for his parents. Mary said that in the beginning they got through life minute by minute. Now it's more like day by day.

"Doing things like this helps," Rick said.

When they finally were able to access Mikey's photos, they offered insight and comfort. A few months after his suicide in 2010, Mikey's photos were exhibited at a downtown venue where many of his friends bought prints.

When the McMullens first decided to host an art show with Mikey's photos, they enlisted the help of Yael Eban, a photographer who was also Mikey's friend.

"She helped look at the photos with us with an artist's eye," Mary said.

Mary said that her father, Marcel Benson, was a photographer. In some of Mikey's work, she sees how he studied his grandfather's work. Her father had one particular photo where he took a photo of himself in a mirror. Mikey did the same thing but in reverse. For example, Benson's photo had him clean-shaven with a cigar; Mikey's had facial hair and he used a cigarette.

"It was this study of contrasts that was just so cool," Mary said.

The upcoming exhibit "City Sights" is just a small smattering of Mikey's works. Mary and Rick decided to focus on photos their son took while he was in Boston.

The couple was contacted by Patti Russo, from the convention center, whose son was also Mikey's friend. Not wanting to profit from their son's works, Mary and Rick decided to donate profits from the sale of any of the photographs to the Bloomington High School North library.

The library and its recently retired librarian Kathy Loser are special to the McMullens. When Mikey was a student at North, he often sought refuge in the library when he couldn't get along with a particular teacher. Mary recalls then assistant principal Betty Anderson calling her to let her know Mikey had left his third period class again.

When Mikey became upset or frustrated with the teacher, he'd just walk out of the class and go to the library.

"He was the bad boy who went to the library to read," Mary said.

That action created a bond between Mikey and Loser. She provided a peaceful refuge — something Mary hopes will be maintained by the donation they will make from the exhibit's profits.

"Kathy was a very important person to Mikey," Mary said.

Loser wasn't his only ally at North. The McMullens also credited Anderson, Greg Chafin and Pat Wilson for being good influences on their son. After all, he wasn't a bad kid. Mikey was gregarious, fun and funny — attributes that contributed to his wide circle of friends.

Over the years, the McMullens have kept in touch with many of Mikey's friends — attending special events such as weddings where their son's spirit lives on. At one wedding, the best man recognized that he was only standing there because Mikey wasn't, and the group surrounded the McMullens to remember their loss.

"They're a very loyal, good group of friends," Mary said.

The couple was often asked if they are planning any more exhibits, with many of Mikey's friends probably in a better place to purchase and display the photos. So when the opportunity came to do another show, the McMullens were thrilled to get this chance.

Recently the family was contacted by another of Mikey's friends, a fellow North graduate who is also an actress. Mary said that Grace Rex contacted her about using a melody that Mikey had written for a documentary she was working on.

"We had no idea," Mary said of the music that Rex happily shared with her and Rick.

Even now, looking at the photos, Mary and Rick are awed by their son's talent.

"I just marvel at it," his father said. "The composition is just really, really good."

Although it's been six years since Mikey's passing, the couple is still finding more and more of his creative works.

"We're still finding amazing pictures," Rick said.

Through Mikey's work and the constant contact with his friends, Mary and Rick are comforted by how their son's memory remains alive.

"Art outlives you forever," Mary said.

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