Mafia Hit Man Finds Redemption in Art

Photo: Dominick Montiglio - hit man turned artist

When Dominick Montiglio was only 2, his "Uncle Nino" -- captain of the notorious Gambino crime family -- banished the boy's alcoholic father from his home and took on the role of surrogate and godfather.

Anthony 'Nino' Gaggi and his crew, headed by Roy DeMeo, set an early example for Montiglio, reportedly murdering 200 people and dismembering their bodies at Brooklyn's Gemini Lounge, also known as the "Horror Hotel."

VIDEO: Dominic Montiglio talks about rigging a hand grenade which ended in murder.
Montiglio (right) explains rigging a hand grenade for murder in "Dark Visions."

"I lived the life," said Montiglio, now a 62-year-old struggling artist, who admits he was involved in scores of those killings, then testified against the family before entering the federal witness protection program in 1983.

"But I don't make any excuses," said Montiglio, whose mob nickname was "The Cape."

Now, instead of cutting up corpses, the former hit man creates paintings, depicting the dark anguish caused by a life of organized crime.

VIDEO: Dominic Montiglio describes his artistic process.

And his work is starting to get the attention of collectors who are not only mesmerized by his haunting imagery, but his personal redemption.

This week, Montiglio will be showcased for the first time by the prestigious Olof Gallery at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City alongside other untrained artists whose shattered lives land them on the fringes of society.

"I used to go out with $10,000 in my pocket and drive a Ferrari. Now, I don't have a car and I make minimum wage," said Montiglio, who lives in an undisclosed location in the United States. "That's the hand you're dealt."

VIDEO: Dominic Montiglios service in Vietnam comes through in his artwork.

Outsider art has its origins in France in 1920, when artist Jean Dubuffet described work created by insane asylum patients. Later, in 1972, art critic Roger Cardinal coined the term for those who are culturally marginized and have no contact with the mainstream art world.

"The art is by the uneducated, untrained and in some cases those who suffer problems and are not within this world," said Sanford Smith, who founded the Outsider Art Fair 18 years ago. "People love the idea that it comes with a story."

VIDEO: Dominic Montiglio explains what steered him from music to a life in the mafia.

In New York, outsider art is showcased at the Center for Contemporary Art, which is part of the American Folk Art Museum. "Now, the outsider part is the tail wagging the dog of the museum" as interest in the genre is exploding, according to Smith.

"Part of the mystique is the people who created the art, the autistic who doesn't speak, the mentally ill who have conversations with God," he told "People can say Dominick was a hit man and killed people and went to jail."

Montiglio not only killed for family, but he killed for his country in Vietnam, a paratrooper who survived the slaughter at Hill 875 in the 1967 Battle of Dak To.

Outsider Art Helped Put Mob Behind

"Those demons never leave," he told ABCNews. "To tell the truth, the mob was worse, because killing is war. The other was the crew I was with. Those guys, they killed for fun. They killed for business."

Nightmares of those killings and his fractured family still rage, but now Montiglio uses them to fuel his art in collages of brutal characters and scenes of mayhem.

Montiglio will show his work at Booth 20, alongside three other self-taught artists whose back stories were highlighted in the magazine Raw Vision.

Fantastical painter Alison Silva struggles with an untreated brain tumor that causes hallucinations and fuels her creativity. Artist Candyce Brokaw was sexually abused as a child.

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