The Artist gave one last glance over his finished masterpiece, then nodded, satisfied that it was his best work yet. As he turned to leave, it screamed.
Looking back it was difficult to pinpoint when exactly ritualistic serial-murder had shifted from being one of society’s most atrocious acts to one of its most popular art forms and, in truth, the change had been a gradual one. Many attribute this watershed moment to when psychotic Amelia Van Dernemaun, as she was fleeing the crime scene of having beaten her unfaithful husband to death with a candlestick, in a moment of inspiration, signed her name on the remains with a black marker pen.
What was initially heralded as the stupidity of an incompetent murderer, who, perhaps as the result of mental derangement, had left a record of her identity to ease the authorities catching her, was interpreted by others quite differently. That is: as an impromptu art installation reflecting the themes of the wrath of a woman scorned by infidelity. What could better reflect such ideas, after all, then an actual instance in which a woman scorned by infidelity had bashed her hubby’s noggin in?
The question has often been raised by scholars whether murder can count as an art form when compared with more traditional arts, such as music, painting, and pornography.
‘People kill for entertainment, out of necessity for survival,’ one famed expert in the field, Paton Norms, told me when I interviewed him for this article, ‘to convey messages or ideological values and influence people’s ideas and beliefs, in this way how is it different from any other accepted art form?’
We have always glorified our outlaws, Robin Hood, Ned Kelly and, of course, him. The artist who can only be identified by the mysterious nom de plume he leaves at his crime scenes, the enigmatic initials ‘G.G.’. Pronounced as if with a ridiculous French accent: ‘JiiJii’. For what they stood, no one was sure, and if given the chance no one was dumb enough to ask. Not since Jack the Ripper had a case of serial murders so caught the public’s imaginations.
‘–Which is why you need to do a piece on him,’ orders my magazine’s Boss-man.
‘Yeah, you know, an article. He’s hot stuff in the press right now, a real up and comer. Maybe get yourself an interview with him and stick that in there too.’
‘An interview? With G.G.? A man so elusive that no one is even sure who he really is? A testy artist who spends his time murdering people?’
‘Exactly. It’s stuff like this that sells.’
‘How would I even know where to start? The man’s somehow evaded even the police for years.’
‘You call yourself an investigative journalist, go be investigative.’
Groggily I pick up the receiver. My brain barely processing words floating past me. I snap into consciousness at the word ‘G.G.’. After weeks of searching this could be my lead.
‘Could you repeat…?’
‘His crime-scene, would you like to see it?’
I take the next plane over.
As I walk along dark grimy streets it seems obvious that this would be the place the infamous murder-artist would reside. Slums, so overrun with drug lords, crime dens, the homeless, and the unruly that any kind of authority dared not tread in it. It’s here that the emerging art form found its natural home.
A place of anarchy and death, where a press badge and a camera are all that stands in the way of my untimely demise. Killers are reluctant to bump off journalists, after all, for all their words of making art for art’s sake, what is art without publicity and an audience?
I had covered wars with a lower body count.
Across the police-line onlookers snap pictures with phones, excitedly talking amongst themselves. In the centre of the alleyway a table is expertly set, draped in red cloth, cutlery and food carefully arranged.
But this is a gruesome meal of the macabre. The main dish a pot-bellied spit-roasted man (later discovered to work at the local abattoir) on a bed of lettuce, an apple placed within his breathless maw. Waddling around the table are live pigs, dressed in custom-pig-fitting formal-ware.
I am ushered closer by an older square-jawed policeman, weariness personified, who introduces himself as the Chief.
Conversation turns to my subject, the real reason I’m there. The man of the hour.
‘We know he did it, he knows we know he did it,’ bitterness rasps out of the Chief’s lips in the form of a laugh, ‘but we can’t prove it. He’s smart enough to take all his evidence with him when he leaves a scene.’
e shows me G.G.’s scrapbook-like file. Photographs of bodies carefully arranged into all manner of elaborate shapes and positions. And at every scene, a plaque, like that you would find on the wall of any gallery. The titles varying but the artist’s signature constant: ‘G.G.’.
Our present scene is no exception and my eyes lock onto one such plaque: ‘A Feast for Pigs, G.G.’
I broach the obvious question.
‘Why am I here? Surely giving him media attention is playing into what he wants?’
‘He’ll get the attention anyway.’ The Chief firmly grips my shoulder, a note of desperation in his voice, ‘You need to show the world what a monster he really is, someone to be despised, not glorified.’
I assure him I’ll do what I can in exchange for any information I need.
‘He’d better watch himself,’ the Chief says as parting words, ‘I’ve got a bullet with his name on it.’
It grows dark as I walk back to my hotel.
Suddenly, hurried footsteps, a flash of movement. A young woman scampers down an alleyway, tailed by a man-shaped silhouette. I move to cry out a warning, but feel the pressure of a firm-grip on my arm.
The white of his impeccable stylish suit’s only matched by his pasty pale skin, only matched by his bleached blonde hair. All but an inverse silhouette were it not for his eyes, which look as though he may have borrowed them from a wolf.
I interviewed an African warlord once, deep within a cave formation, guns aimed, disjointedly conversing through the warlord’s translator. I am no stranger to dangerous journalism. But it’s here I feel true fear, for I am positive I am looking across at the infamous G.G.
Finger pressed to his lips and a look in his eyes which would render a person unable to speak anyway.
‘We mustn’t interfere,’ he speaks in a soft voice, the kind that uses no more volume than is absolutely required and instead demands others to listen closely, ‘the show must go on.’ He carefully leads me to a vantage point where we see all that transpires.
The girl stumbles and her pursuer moves in, like a shark sensing weakness.
‘Hey there, little girl, isn’t it past your bedtime?’ the brute reaches for her. I can barely watch the inevitable unfold when—
—The woman whips around, concealed knife in hand, then a fraction of a second later, concealed knife in her stalker’s chest. The line between these two points in time filled with the smooth arc of a blade, and a scarlet plume.
She treats his torso as a game of invisible whack-a-mole. It’s not long before he stops moving.
I am stilled by the immediacy of it all.
She raises her knife again, in our direction. G.G. tips an imaginary hat towards her.
‘The hunted becomes the hunter, the mouse catches and eats the cat,’ the edge of his mouth flits upwards in his angular version of a smile, ‘a nice idea, even if she was a bit sloppy in the execution.’
Even I am forced to admit there is a certain elegance to the whole thing.
‘We have to encourage the next generation of artists,’ his tone dangerously close to pride.
‘So you’re the journalist? Don’t mind the Chief, he’s not a fan.’
My opening-barrage of questions is met with only a smirk.
‘It’s not the artist’s responsibility to explain their art. However, you are most welcome to come see one of my exhibitions.’
I didn’t really know what to expect as I mounted the stairs to the instructed floor of the instructed office building. Upon entering I cannot help but feel relief that he has ‘Here are some I prepared earlier’-ed the bodies, messy work done before I arrive, Cling-wrapped cadavers carefully laid on the scratchy office floor.
Paying me no attention he takes them one by one and poses them as if they are going about everyday menial tasks. Hunched in front of cubicle screens; waiting in orderly queues; standing idly by the water cooler. For cleaners to find in the morning.
‘You killed all these people?’ I blurt out.
G.G. gives a snort. ‘Of course not, they’ve been dead for years. Completing pointless tasks all-day everyday, they were dead long before I came to them, when they abandoned their dreams. No,’ a splotch of blood drips onto the desk, perturbed, GG carefully wipes it with a handkerchief, before folding and returning it to his coat pocket. ‘All I did was make them into Art.’
The very next week a late arrival to a funeral discovers, much to his horror, that all the other attendees, and indeed any other mourners occupying the cemetery at that time, are, in matter of fact, stuffed and meticulously arranged corpses. These corpses are quickly identified as having previously been interred in the gravesites they have been left standing in front of.
What is initially viewed as a case of vandalism and desecration of human remains takes an even darker turn, however, when staff go to return the bodies to their graves. There they find that the resting places had been otherwise occupied by those who had come to pay their respects that day.
Scratch marks on the coffin lids.
The dead mourning over the living.
Even in my time spent back at home I could rarely escape G.G.’s presence. His latest works inevitably receiving double billing in all the newspapers that crossed my desk, first being condemned in the crime section and then nearer to the back being celebrated in the art sections.
At local fairs people snap pictures of cardboard cut-out standees bearing G.G.’s likeness, taking in turns poking their heads through the cut-out circle so that it can look like they are the ones being decapitated.
Following a short downturn in popularity after a water-themed piece (‘The Red Canals’) accidentally left a defenceless duckling with an injured leg (for which he profusely apologised) his brief exploration into cubism was deemed by critics as ‘masterful’.
‘Imagine what Picasso himself might have done had he thought to use real human faces!’ one wrote.
By this point there had naturally been much speculation into the true identity of G.G.
A rival newspaper had even published a list of five suspects supposedly leaked by police.
Not even a week later an impromptu gallows had appeared in the town square. Five men, hanged from five nooses, all dressed in identical white suits. One of whom, or so sources claimed, was even supposed to be in police custody at that time for questioning.
Two giant chalk lines had been drawn in front of the scene like so: ‘ ‘ . A mock game of hangman. Parallel was a neat row of oversized chalk-drawn letters, what seemed to be every letter in the alphabet. Every letter, that is, but one.
‘Pale Imitations, G.G.’
My desk bears the weight of a thousand dead trees in scrap note paper. All of them scribbled with enough inks worth of notes to make a giant squid envious. But I am missing the heart of the piece. An interview.
‘…and then I said: “you should have quit while you were a head!” The assembled party guests burst into laughter at G.G.’s anecdote. He pulls one strikingly beautiful woman close and whispers something, she giggles, then sends her on her way. As the crowd disperses I finally manage to catch his ear.
‘How did you manage to get us into the Mayor’s party?’ I ask in disbelief, taking a glass of wine.
‘He invited me,’ G.G. replies, ‘I’m one of his major contributors.’
The night drags on and his mood turns sombre as he becomes less sober.
‘I think I may be too mainstream,’ he confesses, ‘All the money and fame and success makes it hard to concentrate on what matters, you know what I mean?’ he downs another drink. ‘It used to be about the murder, man. It used to be about the murder.’ he shakes his head disappointed in himself.
‘That’s why I’m giving it all up.’
He shushes me and gestures in the direction of our host. The Mayor, himself, surrounded by bikini clad mistresses climbs to his balcony.
‘You can do it! Show us how brave you are,’ they egg him on. The girl from before winks and blows G.G. a kiss.
The Mayor’s reluctant at first but, having had a remarkable amount to drink, and the insistence of the beauties not hurting, he finally gives in. Barely looking where he is going he throws himself off the ledge into the pool below.
Instead of the expected echoing splash of an intoxicated politician belly whacking into a pool, a strange metallic jingling.
All the guests peer down, but it’s not a pretty sight.
When emergency services finally manage to crane-lift him out the deep-end the following morning it will have been well and truly proved that:
1. Contrary to what Disney cartoons would have you believe it’s not in fact possible to swim in a pool full of money and
2. Man cannot survive by breathing in money alone.
Nobody had noticed that the pool cleaners that day had in fact been doing very much the opposite of their intended role.
A small plaque will be found on the wall by the pool’s ladder which reads ‘Blood Money, G.G.’
‘I know,’ he misreads my expression, ‘a little on the nose and poetic-justice-ey.’ We continue to stroll out of the premises, ‘But there are limits to what one can do with political assassinations when on a tight schedule.’
We were all but away from the scene, but you know how it goes: best laid plans of mice and serial killers.
We exit out the rear into a back alley only to find that its entrance has been entirely blocked off by an illegally parked party bus.
The banshee wail of police sirens becomes perceptible. Of course the Mayor’s staff would have a direct line to emergency services.
My heart plays staccato drum beats in my chest, I have little delusions as to my own fortunes if we get caught, doubtful that ‘Don’t arrest me officer, he’s the killer, all I do is take notes,’ will cut it.
But, no, there! A fire escape! I am half way up the ladder before I look down.
G.G. in a unique moment of clumsiness trips and twists his foot.
The sounds and flashing lights of police sirens grow. I peer down at the twisted pale form of a man, life in my hands as so many had been in his. The opportunity to leave the killer to finally be brought to justice.
Maybe I am curious to see how the endgame to G.G.’s plans would play out. Maybe I figure abandoning my subject will not make a good ending to my story. Hell, maybe I’ve even grown attached to the guy.
Whatever the reason, I release my grip on the railing letting myself fall to the ground, bending my legs to absorb the impact. Lifting him to his feet I bear his weight on my shoulders as I push him up the fire escape.
Besides, I still hadn’t gotten my interview.
Weeks go by. I suspect that I won’t hear from him again. Perhaps he’d gone to ground after national authorities finally started pursuing him. The Government managing to decide where to draw the line on cases of artistic murder: when their own politicians began getting knocked-off. I busy myself with rounding my notes into a story, despite my failure to interview my subject.
No more nights spent tailing psychopaths, just good old fashioned typing. The way it should be.
Then my phone rings.
‘I have something important to show you.’
I have my coat on and am out the door.
I had to repress the excitement of such a scoop. No one had ever seen the inside his workshop. An exclusive first.
Tables covered in every kind of weapon, a lab-grade chemistry set, a complete set of anatomy textbooks. I soak it all in, here in the heart of it all.
G.G. carefully chooses a machete from a table and begins idly sharpening it.
‘You should feel honoured you know, I’ve chosen you very carefully.’
My excitement drops palpably as I correct my original thought: No one left alive had seen the inside of his workshop.
I should have known this time would come. One can only dance among wolves for so long before the beasts tire of playing with their food and grow hungry.
In my absent mindedness I had let him stand between me and the door, blocking any chance of escape.
He raises the knife. It’s time. I close my eyes tight and brace myself for the end.
‘What are you doing?’
I peek out with one eye.
He idly polishes his machete, confused. His gaze follows mine down to the knife, back up to me, to the knife again. He laughs.
‘Oh no, I wouldn’t do that to you,’ as if the serial-killer thinks this is the most ridiculous suggestion in the world.
‘I’ve decided you can write my biography, do keep up.’
‘Exclusive all-access interview, free to ask whatever you want. Just one thing I have to do before then.’
The phone rings but I am surprised to find it’s not G.G. Instead it’s an old friend of mine, a former journalist turned crime-scene photographer.
‘You’re going to want to see this.’
What remains of G.G. lies splayed on the floor, small streams of red dyeing his white suit crimson, pooling on the floor. Gaze forever lifelessly facing the stars, a third red eye peering outwards, the single gunshot wound to the head that killed the killer.
Despite myself I can’t help but admire the minimalist elegance of the way the blood creates patterns on the plain white wall behind him.
The Chief of police cowers in the corner, face covered. His gun, fired once, centred in the gap between him and his shootee.
‘I had no choice,’ he mumbles to his first-to-the-scene-colleagues.
He is proven more right than he knows.
The crime scene investigators recover the killing bullet, damaged but its engraving unmistakable. That familiar signature ‘G.G.’. Not long after they find the telltale plaque on the wall: ‘Self-portrait of the artist’.
The body of a young boy showing clear signs of deterioration will be found stuffed haphazardly in the Chief’s closet at his home. Gift wrapped, tag reading ‘XOXO, G.G.’.
‘The chief’s son?’ I hazard a guess.
The coroner shakes his head.
‘Young perp that the Chief shot years ago while hunting down a suspect, case of mistaken identity. Chief was brought under charges of unnecessary use of deadly force, and transferred to this circle-of-hell.’
‘I guess it’s true what they say,’ says the coroner, ‘that everyone has a few skeletons in their clo—’ I walk off eyes-rolling before he can finish.
It seemed obvious now to all, that G.G.’s greatest arranged death, his magnum opus, his masterpiece was, could only ever have been, his own.
Years later I revisit that part of city, but it’s barely recognisable. Construction crews work hard to break down what remains of the slums, replacing them with affordable housing projects.
I arrive at the newly opened Arts History Museum, and there, in bright air conditioned halls, amongst paintings by Picasso and on-loan Michelangelo sculptures sits an exhibit of G.G.’s final piece. His remains composed just as they were on his final night, preserved behind glass.
Tourists stand in front of it, arms linked. I ask for their thoughts.
‘I suppose it’s a commentary on modern society: that creators of art are scrutinised more than their works, becoming their art and that this destroys them,’ the skinny man says eyes flitting back and forth from his brochure pamphlet crumpled in his hands, and the resting place of G.G., ‘… or something?’
‘I guess I just don’t really get it,’ muses the plump woman accompanying him, holding a tiny plastic gift-shop replica of the scene, ‘but then, I’m more into opera.’
Some speculated that this may have marked the end of the art form, its chief proponent and practitioner gone. That it would pass, like art’s other bizarre phases, be it painted-bean cans or graffitied-urinals, quietly into history.
But then, there’s that old universally acknowledged truth: an artist’s work is always appreciated more after they are dead.
By: Andrew Roberts