Thursday, September 18, 2014

Killer art, man

I wondered if I should maybe save this as a Halloween post to avoid suspicious looks and accusations. But the weather is starting to feel that way, and the Halloween stuff is out in stores already, correct?

Last week I watched a weird documentary that was recommended to me by Netflix called Serial Killer Culture. I'm sure this is still sounding kind of creepy, but don't close the page just yet. If it weren't for the enticing description, I wouldn't have watched: 

Thirteen artists and collectors open up about 
their fascination with serial killers, creating 
art and searching for murderous artifacts.

Compared to most of the junk on Netflix, I thought this actually sounded well-matched to my niche.

I gave it a try. Twisted, maybe. But who isn't, just a little bit?

Take these two dudes, for example:

Rick Staton. Stated that his fascination/ involvement with the art of serial killers was purely monetary. He fell into the business when he saw an article claiming that prints of John Wayne Gacy's art were selling anywhere from $35-$65 apiece. Through several correspondences and visits to Gacy in prison, he was easily able to acquire some of Gacy's art to sell (even admitting that Gacy developed a bit more than a friendly interest in him).

Box of art supplies shipped to Gacy in prison

Nifty screenshot of infamous Gacy clown painting

Portrait of Staton's son painted by Gacy while in prison

When Staton spoke, he seemed slightly aloof and majorly detached from the art and the documentary. He mentioned that even though he had made a significant portion of his income from selling this art for a number of years, he didn't think the art of serial killers was important or special at all. He claimed that he saw the art as an historical artifact; a memory of events that happened that most people don't like to talk about. He also seemed to know he was feeding people unhealthy goods, and gave the impression that he felt he was providing a toxic substance in a regulated way (like a mom giving their underage kid alcohol at home, for example).

Matthew Aaron. This guy was a bit creepier than the last, although, I bet if you met him on the street you wouldn't think he was odd. It was the way he spoke lovingly about the art he collected. Like Staton, he also had a few Gacy pieces:

To the painting above, Aaron tenderly declared his love. The way he spoke, he could have been talking about a person, or a car. He also revealed that he was not just a collector, but an artist himself who made art to accommodate his ever-growing collection. For example, this spider made by Charles Manson inspired a custom-built pedestal complete with bell jar to provide a quaint resting place:

Like Staton, Aaron claimed that part of the joy in collecting* the art of serial killers was the thrill of tracking it down, and the thrill of realizing that all it takes is a letter to a person in prison, or a relative of the killer, to acquire their art. 

All in all, I found the profiles of those who collected the art of serial killers to be far more intriguing than the profiles of artists who created sick fan art about serial killers. [There was one guy who even made comic books about serial killers.] I was also intrigued by the images of art made by serial killers in prison, like this self portrait by Henry Lee Lucas:

Yep, that's a bloody handprint

The jury's still out on whether this was a good documentary, or if anything presented was really that important in the context of art and art history. I certainly don't think this documentary shed a positive light on people who like to collect art. But I do think in some way the people presented in the film are less condemnatory than the rest of us for allowing themselves to tap so far into the realm of humans who have been heavily tainted by the misfortunes of the world. 

I don't want to delve too far into this. I could spend a lot more time writing about artists who never killed anyone. But, I don't know, I still kind of like those clown paintings...

Now, time to go clear my search history and delete all the files on my computer entitled "jwgacy_1.jpg."

*Completely serious: I initially typed "killecting."