Seeking possible links between crime and art is not new: anyone who finds this unethical or inappropriate should look again at the frenetic and horrifying paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, Francisco de Goya or Francis Bacon. However. It’s legitimate to question why crime lays claim to an increasingly larger part of our cultural imagination. Every age has its Jack the Ripper or Gilles de Rais but never before were they embraced or recuperated in this way by writers, filmmakers, or artists. In this respect it becomes rather tricky for any artist to handle this all-too-fashionable topic: his or her approach has to be more than a weird sublimation or the reflection of (ab)normal interest.
Danny Devos’ interest in this subject is not new. For nearly a decade he has corresponded with famous serial killers to learn about their feelings, memories, and expectations. Possible motives didn’t interest the artist since, as he claims, there aren’t any. (In contrast to “ordinary” killings, in serial killings passion or material gain don’t play a role but, rather, an uncontrollable urge to murder is the primary factor.) This total lack of motive, except for an undefinable desire to kill, is Devos’ source of inspiration. The installations, paintings, performances, and most certainly the hundreds of letters by serial killers can all be seen as one life-long work-in-progress.
Devos’ latest project dealt with a Belgian serial killer, MB. For about five years, Devos was in contact with this“Strangler of the Left Bank”. The letters and conversations resulted in a fascinating installation: the murders took place in the mid ‘60s and, as always, got a lot of coverage in the press. All these sensational facts were printed from microfilm which was then painted, depending on the source, in four different colors, resulting in a series of four monochrome paintings with multiple sections in which the personality of MB appears and disappears. The identity of the Belgian serial killer is created by the newspapers and, eventually, exhausted, dropped for another topic. It is quite an achievement that Devos’ installation, without becoming sensational, succeeds in showing the thin line between good and bad, or as he claims, in his case, between becoming an artist or a criminal. Moreover it is a remarkable sign of the times that this fascinating art has finally found its way from alternative spaces to a mainstream gallery.