Virgin of Paste
“I want images to be complicated, not smart, designy little things.
I’m bringing back density – pieces that take time to look at.”
There aren’t much informations about Steven Arnold (1943–1994) on the web. He caught my attention long time ago for the picture above that includes perfectly all the things I love, that is, Decadence, Kitsch and Godliness. How can all this be express more properly? I’m entranced. Anyway his site is currently the most reliable about his life and works. It didn’t surprise me when I read he was a Salvador Dalì protegé and helped him to built the Theater-Museum in Figueres, Spain. He was a versatile artist and his work consisted of drawings, paintings, rock and film posters, makeup design,costume design, set design, photography and film.
For his unconventional lifestyle and eccentric expressions, Steven became friend of a lot of weird personalities like Kaisik Wong, Pandora, Ruth Weiss who later worked with him and, throughout his life, became admired also by famous people like Vogue’s Diana Vreeland, actress Ellen Burstyn, psychedelic explorer Timothy Leary, Jay Leno, The Cars, George Harrison, Blondie‘s Debbie Harry, John Waters‘ star Divine, and Warhol Superstar Holly Woodlawn.
Steven also played an instrumental role in giving “The Cockettes“, the famed psychedlic San Francisco drag troupe, their first chance to perform on stage in exchange for free tickets to his “Nocturnal Dream Show” which was among the first ever Midnight Movie showcases. This launched The Cockettes into underground fame.
The Cockettes also appeared in his rare-seen film Luminous Procuress, starring Pandora and appreciated by Dalì and Andy Warhol. Steven is best known for surreal black & white tableaux vivants photography, produced from the old pretzel factory he called Zanzibar Studios in Los Angeles. Sex, beauty, absurdity, artifice, religiousness, vulgarity, godliness are all mixed together in these Baroque tableaux that can be undoubtedly compared to the more macabre tableaux of Joel Peter Witkin or the more camp tableaux of Pierre et Gilles.
Shrine to my mother
Death of Simplicity
The Master (Robert Musselman and Angie Bowie)
Madame So and So after her lover has left
Invitation to Yin Yang
Hunger for the marvellous
Entrance to the 4th dimension
Skin the Siecle
Theatre of Atlantis
Dream of transformation
There is no separation
Kaisik Wong was a fashion designer, Steven’s collaborator and friend until his death in 1989. Pioneer of the wearable art movement, his work for Steven included the production and design of a play titled “Dragonfly” and several tableaux vivant photography collaborations.
Dawn Younger-Smith has modelled for Steven Arnold and was also a makeup artist and stylist for Arnold. She is now running a vintage shop on etsy and a blog called Boudoir Queen.
Pandora was Steven’s muse, and the film’s star . He said about her: “My Sorceress, Your devoted servant has been reading: Siddhartha, Journey to the East, Steppenwolf, The Prophet – the madman leaves for his enchanted journey on September third. First Rotterdam and Amsterdam, then London, Paris, and off to the Mediterranean. He has sold flowers on the streets of New York, lunched at the Plaza, made masks and costumes for an off-Broadway play, exhibited drawings in a Sheridan Square gallery, and now this wiser wizard is off into the mist to explore and learn. With him everyday, he carries the memory of his magic sorceress who lives among the flowers and the trees.”
Pandora with Salvador Dalì
Steven Arnold selfportraits:
Steven in the early 70s, before the stage musical “The Rocky Horror Show” (later made into the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) made it’s debut, clearly anticipating Rocky Horror’s anti-hero, Frank N. Furter. Styled by Nikki Nichols.
self portrait as Leonardo daVinci
the old pretzel factory he called Zanzibar Studios in Los Angeles where the tableaux vivants came to life