Police Shoot and Kill Celebrity Portrait Painter-Convict Who Escaped Prison

Richard W. Matt Julia Roberts Photo: heavymetal.com

A nation-wide manhunt for the prisoner escapees from Dannemora Correctional Facility has come to an abrupt end, as the pair were both shot this weekend on separate occasions.

Although David Sweat remained in critical condition, the other, Richard W. Matt, a convicted murderer, died last Friday due to three gunshots to his head, NBC News reports.

Besides being a skilled escapee, whose feats have been compared to those demonstrated by characters in the film Shawshank Redemption, Matt was also regarded as a highly skilled painter.

In an article from the New York Times, Matt was described by a fellow prisoner, John Mulligan, as “the best in the system that anyone could recall.”

Richard Matt in 2008. Photo: AP.

Richard Matt in 2008.
Photo: AP.

Indeed, portraits of loved ones, photo-based images of celebrities and political figures, were often bartered with guards and inmates in return for favors. So much so, that Matt was able to strike a deal with Gene Palmer, a security guard at Dannemora, who was such a fan of Matt’s art, he traded art supplies and helped smuggle tools for the prisoner’s escape.

Prison art, particularly of notorious convicts such as Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy, has a prosperous marketplace among a niche collector base. This type of art can be found in small galleries, on eBay, and other more controversial websites including murderauction.com and serialkillersink.net.

But it looks like prison art isn’t just going to a few zealous, if macabre, collectors. For her first solo show at a Lower East Side gallery, a young artist and graduate of Yale University, Darja Bajagic, incorporated purchased serial killer art as part of a series of framed collages.

Police search for Ricahrd Matt and David Sweat. Photo: Mary Altaffer/ AP

Police search for Ricahrd Matt and David Sweat.
Photo: Mary Altaffer/ AP

A former prisoner, Anthony Papa, was serving 15 years to life in a prison in Ossining, N.Y. when he was taught how to paint. Art is “a very powerful rehabilitating tool,” he told the Times, “not only for the prisoner, but for the institution.”

After his release, Papa has gone on to some success as a painter, making works about social justice and selling them for four figures.

New York-dealer Andrew Edlin, who owns and runs the Outsider Art Fair, predicted Matt’s art would not become more valuable because of its quality, but rather the notoriety surrounding its story. “Their [collectors’] reasons would be purely mercenary,” Edlin told the Times. “I think, to me, this is sort of a pop-oddity culture story rather than an art world story.”


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