Discover more from THE DAHMER DIARIES
Entry #6: The Dahmer Paintings
A conversation with the artist. Part One.
“The artist is free to express everything.” —Oscar Wilde
This is a 2-part interview with the artist Volk Kinetshniy.
I DISCOVERED THE ARTIST Volk Kinetshniy through their profile on Instagram.
My immediate reaction to Kinetshniy’s creations—besides being impressed with their technique—was a feeling of kinship.
Here was another individual willing to approach the mystery of Jeffrey Dahmer through a medium that sidestepped the rational—though sometimes muddled—psychoanalytic terms I consider limiting and uninspired. A technical language that often conceals as much as it reveals.
For me, to pursue a serious investigation into the phenomenon of Jeffrey Dahmer is akin to delineating a Zen koan written in cryptic code.
Many artists and writers, and I would classify myself this way, undertake a creative feat by aligning with a stratum of inquiry that ventures beyond the societal definitions of ‘normal.’ And this becomes the unwieldy terrain they traverse to accomplish their aim.
There is a peculiar, wild freedom that appears when one steps beyond the quotidian in search of original insights. Revelations that, at first, might appear frightening and feral—but human nonetheless.
An artist’s muse can appear from the most unlikely genesis. And as the novelist, John Calendo notes: “Art is always amoral.”
This is my impetus in writing my book—to approach the riddle or koan of Dahmer—by applying an artistic set of disciplines. And although I can’t speak for Kinetshniy, I sense a similar process for them as well.
Kinetshniy is not writing a book, but they are on an artistic odyssey that follows the transmissions and ‘directions’ that arise from their muse.
I contacted Kinetshniy recently to conduct a proper interview via email.
Some biography: Volk is a genderfluid visual artist (photographer, painter, and webtoon creator) and writer. They also create artwork under the professional moniker of Unicornvein.
Kinetshniy has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's in Criminology and Criminal Psychology. They are currently completing their Ph.D. in Criminal Psychology (based on serial killer research).
Volk’s online presence can be found on Instagram.
What first attracted you to becoming an artist?
To be honest, I can’t pinpoint a specific moment in time, but I always felt the need to create, so I have been painting since I was little. Art allows you to create your own universe, and I just felt this was the right choice for me. Apart from that, my mother is a painter, and so I used to watch art shows with her or observe her paint which I’m sure had a great impact on me since she also encouraged me to try things out. Actually, my painting skills were the reason I was allowed into first grade, although I was underweight and had social phobias.
It was, however, later in life that I clearly decided I wanted to be an artist. First, I started with photography, though, and then went seriously into painting with the Dahmer series a few years ago.
And what was the first art piece you ever created and felt good about?
It was the first oil painting of Dahmer with the bone and flower garland called Portrait of a Serial Killer. I was studying Jeffrey Dahmer’s interviews and FBI files for my university at that time, and I suddenly felt the urge to paint his portrait.
It was very intense, I just knew I had to do it, and for some reason, my painting skills improved drastically during that piece. I was on a whole new level, while I hadn’t painted for over two years. I had never tried oils on wood before and never with such detail, so I was really pleased with myself, and that’s when I knew he would be my muse and walk me through my first solo exhibition, Lucifer, my dear—which he did.
What media do you enjoy working with the most and why?
I usually work with two kinds of materials, oil colors, and graphite/pencils. I like working with oil colors on wood or canvas, or even primed paper because oils are very smooth and allow you to blend the colors very easily if you want to. Plus, you can build layers over layers and also correct anything you don’t like in the process. And pencils allow me to create portraits very fast and easily, and I mostly work with soft pencils like 8B, etc., because they allow you to blend shadows very well and create a realistic texture.
What was transpiring in your life at the time that stimulated your artistic inspiration?
I was forced to work as a psychologist in a horrible underpaid office, and I didn’t want that, so I quit after a few weeks and decided I was gonna focus on my Criminology degrees and my painting more because I enjoyed doing that. I wanted to have a solo exhibition, which I later did.
I was also reading a lot of Zen books at the time, and somewhere in [Erich Fromm’s] Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, I remember reading about a monk who had to paint a dragon, but he didn’t know what dragons looked like, so the other monk told him to lock himself up in a room and wait until he himself becomes the dragon and that’s when the dragon will urge him to paint him. Also, in another part, the book stresses that a painting of a flower is in itself a new flower because it has life on its own. So I could really feel my paintings coming to life in a way, and I really liked that.
And what inspires the various themes and subjects that you concentrate on?
Dark aesthetics inspire me. In general, I would say I like the use of symbols, mythology, the occult, pop culture, and gay/trans themes. I also like to combine themes from Balkan, East Asia, European, Mediterranean, and Slavic customs and myths, since I come from a very multicultural background. I like to question things, I like to question right and wrong, good and evil, devils and angels.
Do you recall how and why Jeffrey Dahmer became of interest to you as a subject or muse?
Yes, initially, he was just one out of many serial killers that I had to study about. I remember I joked with my cousin that he looked a little like him, so this is why I started studying Jeffrey Dahmer and focused on him more. Then I just felt he was a very interesting individual. His whole thinking pattern and even his crimes were intriguing. He had his own opinion about things, and he was not apologetic or fake. He was very imaginative, creative, and odd. He was a lot of things that I liked.
But if I had to single out three characteristics that hooked me on him, it would be: 1. He was a very genuine person, 2. He never killed or harmed animals. And 3. he was gay. So he scored 3 out of 3 there for me. It’s three of my biggest criteria for someone to be my muse, I would say. I felt the need to give him new life through my paintings, which is the feeling that overcomes me whenever I use someone as my muse.
I’m confident someone reading your criteria will balk at the idea that not killing or harming animals is listed. Given that the taking of human life occupied Dahmer throughout his short life. How do you reconcile that?
Yes, I can see that. Here is the thing, personally I have a very strong love and respect for animals (both pets and wild animals), while I don’t always feel the same for humans. I feel I can connect with animals really well and create strong and genuine bonds. With humans, it’s pretty rare, though. The reasons are many, so I’ll focus on the most crucial one. Animals are not “fake”; they are very genuine, while humanity (not all humans, but the average person) is 100% fake.
I’ve heard people blaming animals for not being innocent. Still, I don’t agree with that because even if they try to trick you for food or an extra walk or build “manipulative and tricking” strategies for hunting a victim, that’s not what hypocrisy is for me. Correspondingly, I don’t blame humans as hypocrites because they go to wars or pick fights. I accuse them of hypocrisy based on their everyday life and the simple things they do; for example, someone might condemn serial killers but be a bully or emotionally abusive to people close to them. Having alienated themselves from their entire existence to fit in perfectly in society’s standards, they easily stigmatize, judge, and marginalize anyone who doesn’t wear the same mask as they do and can not or will not accept the same reality as they have. So it’s the average person inside the “normal” society that is the epitome of hypocrisy, and that appalls me.
I don’t feel humans are higher or more important than animals in any way, and it outrages me when people imply that this is a given fact. It’s not. So, I feel extreme sadness at the death of an animal, while if I hear of the death of a human, I have learned to have no emotion. Instead, I instantly pose the question: what kind of a person were they (depending on my standards)? Should I feel sad or not? It depends, sometimes I feel very sad and sometimes not at all.
What makes Dahmer, for you, different from other serial killers?
Well, I believe serial killers differ from each other just like any other person does. Dahmer, I felt, was special because he was one of those who didn’t pretend to be someone else. He didn’t have “two different” lives like other serial killers. Nobody ever thought he was “normal” or a “good guy.” He was always the outsider because he didn’t care to conceal his true self. Of course, he was hiding the fact that he was killing people, but that’s all he was hiding. There was no fake persona of Jeff.
Apart from that, as a criminal psychologist, I must admit that he was the onset of the modern serial killer. Murder, necrophilia, mutilation, preserving bodies, cannibalism, and in fact, making his home a living graveyard. “He had it all,” that’s what my profiling professor used to say about Dahmer. Another thing that differentiates him from other serial killers is that he didn’t kill out of hate or some traumatic experience, but he killed because of desire, or you can even call it ‘love’ in a sense.
I recall reading where Robert Ressler—the FBI agent who became the inspiration for one of the characters in the series Mindhunter, noted that Dahmer was a “mixed" offender.” In fact, Ressler wrote, “he encompasses so many usually unrelated dynamics that we may have to make him the prime example of an entirely new category of serial killer.”
In my writing about Dahmer, I avoid terms like ‘monster’ and ‘evil’ as these terms don’t convey anything substantial related to cause and motive. How do you relate to those descriptions which the media consistently applies to Dahmer?
Ah, yes, I’m appalled by these descriptions, actually. I sadly believe that humans are pretty evil creatures, and I’m talking about the average person, not just killers or serial killers. They think that by casting serial killers out of their “kind” and scapegoating them, they themselves will suddenly turn “good” and “worthy.” The fact that society is evil and the average person is far from good remains. Calling someone a “monster” or “pure evil,” etc., is—very simply put—dehumanizing them. In fact, in my recent research about serial killer motivation, I studied how dehumanization is a technique often used by serial killers toward their victims to be able to kill them without remorse. So, I have also ended up noticing how the same behavior of dehumanization is applied by the media and the average person too, and it’s scary because dehumanization takes out the human characteristics of a person, which means that killing them is unimportant since they are not human anymore.
Yes, exactly. Dahmer explained to one of the arresting officers: “It's a process…when you depersonalize another person and view them as just an object…It seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn't do.”
I’m aware that you are drawn to the existential psychology of Erich Fromm and how he differs from the Freudian or Jungian analysis of personality. How do you imagine Fromm would contextualize the notion of dehumanization? Better yet, hypothetically—how do you imagine Fromm would analyze the phenomenon of Jeffrey Dahmer?
Regarding dehumanization, I think it would apply to his theory “To have or to be,” which is a general problem of society since the attitude of “having” regards everything as a possession. Possessions are used to identify oneself instead of attributes or personal characteristics. So living things become objects we want to “have” to be happy, not connect to, but own.
It’s just that in Dahmer’s case, it went to an extreme, and that’s why it is easier to recognize it. His victims were his possessions, their skulls were his possessions, he killed to keep them, and he ate them to make them part of himself in an attempt to merge permanently. Unlike some other serial killers, Dahmer was not a bully and neither a sadist because he went to great lengths to avoid killing (for example, using a mannequin or drugging people at baths).
In fact, Dahmer mentioned that the killing part was not enjoyable, but the part after that was what he wanted, to have that man to himself. So according to Fromm, he would not be called suffering from malignant aggression like some of the most famous leaders involved in wars (Hitler, Stalin).
Furthermore, Fromm as a humanistic psychoanalyst, believed that people are both born and made, but there is always something more than what analysts can observe. He believed that not all attributes of a person are obvious enough to the eye or our understanding and, therefore, not possible by science and research to be analyzed and examined. Additionally, he mentions how people who adapt 100% to society have no real identity and therefore are the true pathological individuals, while those who suffer from mental distress and problems are the more unique and “healthy’ ones.
Given that and the fact that Dahmer was suffering from a borderline personality disorder, we could say that Dahmer was a dangerous but genuine individual. Dahmer was accepting of his homosexuality and believed to be better than other people, and he considered his needs more important than anyone else’s, so one could say that he showed narcissistic characteristics, though since he was a loner, I would say rather vulnerable narcissistic trait and not grandiose (which is the current theme of my Ph.D. actually).
I believe that according to Fromm and Maslow (which is what my Serial killer thesis was about), the fact that Dahmer had different interests from the average person and was marginalized and isolated for that deprived him from meeting essential human needs such as relatedness, sense of identity, and frame of orientation. Thus, not feeling like he belonged in society and not being able to identify with other people, dehumanization could easily be applied by him to others to an extreme extent.
But let’s revisit the term ‘evil’ and how your exhibition of these paintings was titled Lucifer, my dear. Tell me more about what would seem a contradiction—given that you are ‘appalled’ by how our culture uses vague terms like ‘monster’ and ‘evil’ to individuals that society deems immoral. And yet the words appear in your paintings’ titles.
In the Lucifer, my dear project of Jeffrey Dahmer, I’m actually examining the concepts of good and evil and how relative they can be. I don’t believe pure evil and pure good exist, and in fact, the terms “evil” and “good” are just invented words that have varied greatly through the ages and between different societies and cultures. Therefore the concept of “good” and “evil” is just an illusion in reality.
The title of my entire project is Lucifer, my dear, because it’s all portraits of Lucifer. I clearly used Jeffrey Dahmer as my model for it because of my special interest in him and because he wanted to become Lucifer. Dahmer had stated how he wanted to come in contact with Lucifer, and so this sparked the idea for me to merge them.
Now the fact that I used the word “Lucifer” is because although he is the same person/creature as the very well-known “Devil” or “Satan,” he is also an angel, and in fact, he is the brightest angel of all angels. How can the brightest angel become the symbol of evil just because he disobeyed? So I’m depicting “the Devil” in his angelic form if you want, blending the concepts and the judgment. All these portraits are named after names that have been used to name Satan or the Devil, and they come together underneath the unifying name of Lucifer, my dear.