Michael Alig Released From Jail

 

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Self portrait, 2013. Michael Alig.
Courtesy the artist via Twitter.

The former drug-dazed club kid Michael Alig was released from jail today, after being convicted of the 1996 murder of his drug dealer and roommate Angel Melendez. He served 17 years behind bars, during which he has worked hard on repairing his image and building a following. Lately he’s been using Twitter from prison and has amassed over ten thousand followers. On his Twitter feed (under the handle @Alig_Aligula), he describes himself as “former king of the club kids and now prisoner at Mid-State, where I’m finishing my book, Aligula. This is my only Twitter—the others are wannabes!”

But what’s even more interesting is that Alig has been painting during his time behind bars— candy-colored, pop-inflected portraits of the denizens of his former night-life days like Lady Bunny and Amanda Lepore — and has allegedly aroused art world interest. There is talk of an exhibition of his work, according to one confidant. Quick, call Klaus Biesenback at P.S1!

“He has something like a hundred paintings,” said Steve Lewis, nightclub consultant and designer, as well as a friend and former colleague of Alig’s who has written at length about Alig for his column at BlackBook. Lewis says he will be there at the prison upon Alig’s release.

Alig was once considered something of a creative genius, a party promoter sans pareil for his ability to lure crowds, including actors, models, and celebrities to clubs like Limelight, Palladium, and USA. Others have noted that Alig was nothing more than one among a profusion of “glorified go-go dancers” (as per Steve Lewis).

 

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Portrait of Amanda Lepore, 2013. Michael Alig.
Courtesy the artist via Twitter.

In prison, Alig has been churning out by the dozen portraits of old-school nightlife personalities, sometimes with nothing more than wall paint and floor wax. Especially alluring is his image of nightlife icon Amanda Lepore with succulent red lips and Barbie-yellow hair against a lavender ground. His portrait of “DJ Keoki” is a fun montage of drugs and drug paraphernalia like syringes, an ecstasy pill, and a vial of cocaine. Clearly Alig is still inspired by the heady world he knew so well, seemingly lacking in any sense of critical distance or transformation.

But would an exhibition, and hence a de facto celebration of his picturesque portraits legitimize the work of a convicted murderer and gloss over his crime?