Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Artistically Confined

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As a convicted murderer, Jodi Arias can no longer profit from her artwork – but the same cannot be said of Team Jodi “murderabilia” collectors.

It was one of the most watched and talked-about trials in Valley history – one that ended with Jodi Arias, the so-called Mormon murderess, collecting a murder conviction that will either send her to death row or result in her lifelong incarceration, commensurate with the outcome of her sentencing hearing. But there’s something more to collect from this media circus – Arias’ own artwork.


Paintings and pencil drawings allegedly done by Arias are offered for sale on the website Jodiarias.com and were widely available on eBay prior to her conviction. Arias was able to freely sell her artwork before her conviction to help with trial costs. Due to “notoriety-for-profit” laws, that’s no longer the case, but she can direct money to any nonprofit organization she chooses.

Dealers, on the other hand, can still profit from Arias’ handiwork – largely paintings of celebrities like Frank Sinatra, zodiac-named women and colorful animals. Eric Huller – known by his online persona, Eric Gein, inspired by the 1950s cross-dressing necrophiliac Edward Gein – is the owner-operator of Serialkillersink.net and has sold true crime collectibles for years. Huller says he’s interested in purchasing Arias’ artwork but has been turned off by prices that top out at $1,900.

The sale and resale of artwork by convicted murderers and other violent criminals has long been fraught with controversy, from the clown portraits of John Wayne Gacy to the violent rambling letters of “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz. Despite numerous laws to limit or eliminate the sale of “murderabilia,” notoriety has turned these killers into mini-industries (see sidebar).

Andy Kahan, a Houston-based victim’s advocate and coiner of the term “murderabilia,” has fought the trade for more than 20 years. While Kahan says he has no problem with people interested in collecting true crime artifacts, he is wholly opposed to selling it for profit. “For victims’ families, they find it nauseating that someone is willing to profit from this,” Kahan says. “It’s like being gutted all over again.”

Though eBay halted sales of Arias’ art, Jodiarias.com – an anonymously-run site hosted by web company Domain By Proxy – is undeterred. Emails to the operator went unreturned, but the site promises thumbprint verification with the artwork as well as certificates of authenticity upon request. The items appear to match Arias’ artwork previously sold on eBay and featured in national media reports.

Huller – who says his buyers include psychologists and criminologists looking for insights into the criminal mind – has little doubt the site is legitimate but thinks the business model is flawed. “The real value [of an average piece] is only about $300-$400,” he says. “Once [Arias] gets into prison for a while, she is going to turn to dealers like myself to sell her artwork. Once that happens, I’m definitely going to get in touch with her.”

Forrest Solis, assistant professor of art education at Arizona State University, specializes in drawing and painting. Solis says Arias’ artwork is comparable to that of a skilled high school student. “Based solely on the merit of her artwork... her works are not deserving of the given price. The imagery itself is not complex or layered.”

According to Kahan, the people who snapped up Arias originals on eBay and other sites are probably a mix of supporters and idolizers – and they aren’t going away. “Mark me,” Kahan says, “Jodi Arias will be the new queen bee of murderabilia.”

Killer Collectibles
Wayne Lo - Lo committed a school shooting at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1992, killing a student and a professor, and wounding four others. Serving consecutive life sentences, Lo is a prolific artist who works in everything from paint to fabric. He sells his work on SkidLo.net to benefit the victims of his crime.

Charles Manson - The architect of the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders is murderabilia’s No. 1 offender. Musician-turned-cult-leader Manson parlayed his misdeeds in the late 1960s into a sustained market for personal curios and the like, from strands of hair and unused prison toilet paper to half-eaten Reese’s Pieces. One website asks $2,500 for a sample of his hair. He is currently held at Corcoran State Prison in California.

Richard Ramirez - The so-called “Night Stalker” terrorized Southern California from the spring of 1984 until his capture in the summer of 1985, brutally murdering at least 14 people. His pentagram-laden artwork and letters are often the most sought-after pieces in murderabilia, according to Huller, ranging from $50-$1,200. He died of lymphoma in June 2013.

 

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