Tampa Police officers discovered the body of infamous artist James Stephen George Boggs—known commonly by his artistic signature, “J. S. G. Boggs”—in a motel near Tampa International Airport last month.
He was 62 years old.
On Jan. 23, Robert Salmon, manager of operations for the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, said the cause of death was yet to be determined.
A Tampa Bay Times obituary said his mother, Marlene Boggs, died last year. She was formerly known as “Margo Queen of the Jungle’’ in a traveling carnival act before marrying businessman Jim Boggs. The younger Boggs had no known siblings or children.
According to the Times, police do not suspect foul play.
More than 30 years ago, Boggs was sitting in a Chicago diner, eating a coffee and a doughnut, when he began drawing a dollar bill on his napkin. His waitress offered to buy it; however, Boggs refused, offering it instead as payment for his 90-cent bill. The waitress gave Boggs 10 cents in change, and with this purchase came a newfound artistic endeavour.
For the remainder of his life, Boggs explored the boundaries of art and money while reproducing U.S. dollars, British pounds and Swiss francs, albeit with some purposeful deviations.
“He was just short of being a con man, but no more than anyone in the art world, or for that matter in the world of finance—which, of course, was his whole point,” Lawrence Weschler told ARTnews following Bogg’s death.
Sometimes he would draw “Pittsburgh, Pa’” rather than “Washington, D.C.,” and other times he would sign his name as “Secretary of Truth.”
Boggs initially produced each note but hand individually but eventually produced limited-edition prints. He offered this money as payment for goods and services, and if the bills were accepted, he requested a receipt as well as appropriate change.
While the face side of Bogg’s bills were painstakingly accurate, the reverse was always left blank until he made a transaction, the details of which would be written on the blank space. The receipt given to Boggs by the merchant would then be sold to any interested collectors, who could inquire with the merchant about purchasing the Boggs’ bill.
Although his work was widely regarded as art by admirers, Boggs was met with trouble in several of the countries whose currency he imitated.
“They said I was a counterfeiter. They don’t understand the difference between art and crime,” Boggs told The Associated Press in 1992, after his apartment was raided while he was an artist in residence at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University.
His works were previously or are currently held in numerous art collections, including:
- the Art Institute of Chicago;
- the Smithsonian Institution;
- Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass.;
- the Norton Museum of Art, in West Palm Beach, Fla.;
- the Tampa Museum of Art, in Tampa, Fla.;
- the Spencer Museum of Art, in Lawrence, Kansas; and
- the British Museum, in London, England.
Despite his artistic admirers, Boggs was arrested—his first—for counterfeiting in England in 1986; however, he was defended by Australian human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and eventually acquitted of all charges.
As detailed in Robertson’s 1998 book The Justice Game, all banknotes issued by the Bank of England now display a copyright marker on the face because of Boggs’ work. In its own interest, for situations such as these, the bank wanted to ensure a copyright violation would be prosecuted if a counterfeiting conviction couldn’t be.
In 1989, Boggs was arrested again, this time in Australia, but he was once again acquitted—and awarded the equivalent $20,000 USD in damages.
As mentioned previously, Boggs’ residence was raided in 1992—the third raid at his home since 1990—on suspicion of counterfeiting. More than 1,000 items were confiscated, but no charges were laid.
In 2006, Boggs was arrested in Florida and charged with possession of methamphetamine; possession of drug paraphernalia; and carrying a concealed weapon. He failed to appear in court a few months later.