Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Art, Therapy With a Profit Motive

Murder Art and the 'Net

Nicoloas Claux
Nicoloas Claux

Nicoloas "Nico" Claux was arrested in Paris at the age of 22 on the suspicion of murder. When the police searched his flat, they found bones, teeth, human ashes, bags of blood, and surgical instruments, but he calmly explained that he had desecrated cemeteries and stolen the blood from a blood bank to consume. He once was a morgue attendant with an obsession with cemeteries, and he'd developed a fixation on the mutilation of corpses. In fact, during autopsies, he claimed he had removed strips of flesh to eat. He also confessed to the murder in question, for which they had very good evidence against him, but despite their attempt to pin on him half a dozen more from around the city with a similar M.O.—perhaps because he had SERIAL KILLER tattooed down his arms---he admitted to no more. He pleaded diminished capacity at his trial, finding ample psychiatric support, and was sentenced to twelve years. Out in 2002 after only seven, he set up a Web site on which he now displays the art of murder.

In his posted bio, he says that he started to paint while in prison, and he began to get commissions from collectors of murderabilia. But he found some peace in the act of painting, and he even waxed philosophical about it. "There's a parallel between art and murder," he said. "They are both a quest for aestheticism, and they both give me strange godlike feelings. Art is creation and murder is annihilation. I have mastered both these tools." He thought this was the reason why so many other killers turn to art during incarceration: The urge to create compensates for the urge to destroy. "Creation and destruction delivered by the same hands."

Other inmates taught him how to paint and in this form he found a way to "express his inner torments." Once on the outside, he continued to develop his talent as a painter and illustrator, and got to know other artists. On Sondra London's Web site, he is quoted as saying, "There's one thing I'd like to paint: corpses on the slab. I love their colors, the post mortem lividities, the gradation of gray, purple, and green." People began to collect his work, and London used it to illustrate her book, True Vampires—including a portrait of herself, done by Claux. Yet while other inmates were painting scenery, clowns, and wildlife, he was painting portraits of serial killers—especially those who most inspired him with their brutal acts. He sees them as a reflection of society's obsession with consumerism, and he paints the killers as Greek gods—what society has turned them into. In other words, he appears to believe that he is using art to bear the truth to society, to hold up a mirror.

Influenced by Nietzsche's ideas, the crime of Erzebet Bathory, and cemeteries (his childhood love), he also paints crime scenes from photographs as evidence of the killer's "macabre composition." In a "Vampire Manifesto" he claims that he's proud of what he's done and that he intends to honor the "Neanderthal DNA" in his veins that propels him to want to kill and consume. Yet if art really serves to work out his inner torment, then he must be evolving.

Indeed, on his Web site, entitled "Eyes of a Vampire," he offers a disclaimer that he is now a long way from his past behavior. He has worked to improve himself through art and does not encourage others to do what he has done. Nevertheless, he displays plenty of gore and dismemberment, and there's no doubt that collectors still flock to him for his notoriety as much as for his creations. Perhaps he's just a clever vampire, sucking it all up.

Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa, too, operates a Web site devoted to the crime for which he served a relatively short stretch in prison. He had killed a female student in Paris for the sole purpose of cooking and eating different parts of her. He later wrote a novel about it, which became a best-seller in Japan, and as Brian King details in Lustmord, he was a darling of the Japanese literati. He also penned a comic book version. When he was freed in 1985, he became a celebrity, showing up in small-time pornographic films and on the cover of gourmet magazines. The Rolling Stones recorded a song about him, called "Too Much Blood." Sagawa also displays samples of his paintings of nude females on his site. While neither Claux nor Sagawa are considered serial killers, it seems clear from their delight in what they did that had they not been caught, they would have killed again, perhaps many times.

Another Web site for looking at the art that serial killers have done is "Serial Killer Central," which provides a long list of names. Not all of them offer what one might call "art," but there may be no other place to see the fullest range of expression created by killers.

That is, unless you see the following film. 

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