By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Salemi's Gacy portrait of "a lopsided, sad-eyed clown" in his living room affected his visitors, you bet.
"When my artist friends came over, they'd say, 'Gacy? No! The only thing about this painting is it really sucks. What's it doing up on your wall?' They didn't care that it was John Gacy, they just thought it was a shitty piece of art, and why would I want to hang it anywhere near anything they had labored on for me?"
As to my Bundy verifications, he knew nothing. But he gave me a phone number, that of one Michael Oberman, entertainment-industry consultant, lecturer, collector of pop-culture ephemera, and, yes, owner of many Gacy originals. Oberman purchased 22 paintings a few years ago and has since sold nearly all of them for $500 a pop.
"I don't collect [serial-killer art]; Gacy is the only killer in my collection," clarified Oberman, "but I've spoken to enough people who are serious collectors. They're into people like Ottis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas [the duo has 11 confirmed kills with 300-plus unconfirmed], and Son of Sam [six confirmed]."
As to the alleged Bundys, Oberman was skeptical.
"After all the hoopla on the Gacy paintings, lots of stuff started cropping up by serial killers, and people were trying to cash in real fast," he said.
Now, I've seen Gacys, and they're nothing to write home about. Michael and Raquel were clearly done by a more accomplished draftsman, yet--surprise!--it's kills over quality when it comes to assessing a painting's worth.
"There is some thought to the quality of it; there are people that don't want to have a painting of body parts by a serial killer. Gacy's paintings were very benign: clowns, birds, flowers. But the whole craze is really driven by someone wanting to say, 'I have something by [a serial killer].' It's shock value."
To step for a second beyond shock value, Bundy or not, I trundled my paintings over to Arizona State University art professor Albert Stewart for his professional opinion on their merits. (Ironically, Stewart began a job as director of the Museum of Fine Arts at Florida State in Tallahassee just months after Bundy had murdered there.)
"As far as composition, aesthetics, how this is appropriated, line, color, shape and texture, they're very illustrative, and illustration is a way of meeting expectations about life. Art about something, but not life," he told me.
"They're competent illustrations, very student-competent. Very commercial, and from that perspective, they're kind of mediocre. But the fact that he [allegedly] did these says that there's some preoccupation with expectations outside of himself, a kind of struggle. He's giving in to the archetypal identification with the color blue being melancholy, orange anger . . . ; there's a sort of hiding of some kind of anger. Or the pink as innocence against the blue and the red. The roller skates are about something moving, something changing, but not actually changing because these are very static."
I stood there, static as well, and the professor continued.
"I would say if Ted Bundy had made another choice, he could have been an illustrator. But you think of Bundy, well, Dahmer was an artist, Hitler was an artist; you begin to see that a lot of art is about the appropriation of a psychological nightmare. I think great art--look at Van Gogh--shifts and goes into another space where the sublime occurs. You don't get a sense of the sublime in these. What you get is very hard, rigid, structured. He put himself in some really hard places, intellectually, philosophically, emotionally. . . . He's not moved by any kind of human emotion here--this is architecture. He's detached from his feelings. If he wasn't, he couldn't have killed all of those people."
Mention the name Debbie Huber to 20 or 25 of our most notorious death-row dwellers, and you could begin networking. Huber is 30, lives in New Orleans, and for a period of five years or so corresponded with these men. It began with Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez (13 kills confirmed, 16-plus unconfirmed), after years of nightmares, in an effort to "humanize" him in her psyche.
When I suggested that most folks might not promote such a relationship as a means to quell their fears, she said, "Most wouldn't, but most aren't me." Very good. "I wrote Richard a letter and he wrote back and he said, 'Next time include your phone number.' He called me up and I thought that he was going to try and scare me, but he didn't. He said he was real sorry for scaring me, and that I should have written to him earlier. I haven't had a nightmare since."
For the record, she no longer communicates with any convicts--"It got boring."
Once again, I struck out with hard-core Bundy information, but jocular, friendly Huber dropped names and told me things that I know you want to hear.
Ramirez: "I have about five or ten drawings from him. They [collectors] say he's really good, but he's awful. He did, oh, beheadings and, umm, beheadings. Yeah, a couple of beheadings. Yeah, I think that's all he really drew about was beheadings."