“Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy, one of America’s notorious serial killers of the 1970s, developed a penchant for painting when he was locked up on death row for 14 years. Gacy produced at least 2,000 paintings and began selling them with the help of his lawyer and an outside collector named Andy Matesi until he received his lethal injection in 1994. On October 31, Material Culture, an auction house in Philadelphia, sold the self-referential painting “Pogo the Clown” (1985), which it claims is a Gacy original, for $12,800 in its spooky-themed “Dark Shadows” sale. (The buyer’s name has not been disclosed.)
Gacy, the murderer of 33 young men and adolescent boys between 1972 and 1978, somehow had time for his side hustle as “Pogo the Clown,” a party entertainer for young children in Norridge, Illinois. Perhaps his actual clown costumes weren’t as terrifying as the paintings he made of them, but it’s astounding that no one clocked Gacy as at least a bit off beforehand.
According to Gacy’s pure stream of consciousness in the form of a typewritten letter that accompanied the auction lot, he sold “Pogo the Clown” to an attorney named Leo W. Dymowski in Baltimore, Maryland, for $50 in 1985. While the original letter to Gacy was not recovered, it appears as though Dymowski made some inquiries and comments on Gacy’s case and requested additional case documents, which Gacy was unable to provide for financial reasons.
Gacy was notably defensive of his artistic abilities in the letter. In the first paragraph, he told Dymowski not to expect the painting to resemble the enclosed photo of himself in full Pogo attire as he had just begun experimenting with portraiture.
“I don’t consider myself an artist, but what talent I have I consider a gift from God, and what I do with it is my gift to God,” Gacy wrote.
With America’s sustained interest in serial killer analysis media and “Murderabilia” collectibles, it’s no surprise that Gacy’s paintings have fetched between hundreds and thousands of dollars in private sales and auctions since his work hit the market.
George Thomas, a consignments coordinator at Material Culture, told Hyperallergic that the painting was consigned to them by an American art collector and spoke about the process of authenticating the work through signature and inscription analysis. The postmarked letter, he said, provided “ample forensic proof that this is a work by John Wayne Gacy.”
“It is rare to find a Gacy work accompanied by such a lengthy letter written to the patron of the work,” Thomas added.
Naturally, serial killer art is extremely controversial to show and market. In 2011, the Arts Factory in downtown Las Vegas came under fire when it showcased a John Wayne Gacy exhibition and fundraiser with proceeds intended to benefit the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC). Unsurprisingly, it backfired completely when the NCVC refused the proceeds and demanded that the Arts Factory remove any association with them in their exhibition marketing. Westly Miles, the gallery owner, defended the exhibition as “an opportunity to help from something that was bad.”