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Steven Arnold

Art / Design

California-born, American artist Steven Arnold devoted his career to the art of transformation. Arnold considered himself a set and costume designer, photographer, painter, illustrator, assemblage artist, and perhaps above all, a filmmaker.

Posted October 31st, 2018 By Colby Mugrabi

In February 1968, shortly before his graduation from San Francisco’s Art Institute, a young Steven Arnold rented The Palace Theatre, a cultural hotspot in San Francisco’s North Beach, for a special screening of his film ‘Messages, Messages’; a project that was largely inspired by the avant-garde surrealist films of artist Man Ray. In tandem with Messages, Messages, Arnold curated a rare collection of surrealist films by Man Ray, Melies, and old French animations, all of which fueled the creation of his early yet extremely astute study of directing and filmmaking.

In the spring of 1968, Arnold began creating works he titled ‘Nocturnal Dreamshows’, which were dazzling hybrid experiences that included drag shows, costumes designed by Arnold, innovative and almost magical sets, and ethereal environments that were made to shock, surprise and engage. The Dreamshows were stylistically surrealist, and included both narrative and musical performances. Arnold’s Dreamshows most notably launched ‘The Cockettes’, a psychedelic San Francisco drag troupe, into underground fame.

Shortly after the success of his Dreamshows, Arnold began working on one of his most infamous films, ‘Luminous Procuress’, winning him the 1972 New Director’s award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the admiration of fellow artist Salvador Dalí. Dali was so impressed by Arnold that he arranged a private screening of ‘Luminous Procuress’ at the St. Regis Hotel, to which he invited New York’s high society, including Andy Warhol, who also praised the film’s genius and dizzying glamour.

Arnold became a favorite of Dalí’s, and in 1974, apprenticed with the surrealist in Spain, helping him to embellish and inaugurate his ‘Teatro-Museo Dalí’. Dalí dubbed Arnold the 'prince' of his Court of Miracles, which included other counter-culture icons such as Donyale Luna, Andy Warhol Superstar ‘Ultra Violet’, Amanda Lear, Marianne Faithfull, David Bowie and Mick Jagger.

Despite his artistic success, Arnold’s health was not in good standing and in 1994 he suffered an untimely passing at the age of 51 years old, following the height of his popularity. Although Steven Arnold’s life was cut shorter than most, the extravagant and influential work which he left behind has gone on to influence generations of avant-garde rule breakers in every facet of the visual arts.

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