An excerpt from the booklet essay by Steve Seid
Steven F. Arnold was born in Oakland, California, on May 18, 1943. From outwardly mundane beginnings - a seamstress mother and a hardware clerk father - Steven fashioned a baroque childhood, gaining an early love of puppetry shows that he would stage for his young friends as a way to woo their attention. The strange vaudevillian procession in Luminous Procuress seems a sly reference to this juvenile fascination with not only the theatrical, albeit at a miniature scale, but also the control inherent in puppetry.
Years later, Steven Solberg, one of the stars of Luminous Procuress, would recall entering Arnold’s creative abode: ‘crusty East Indian puppets hanging from tattered screens - an old Chinese mannequin from the 1930s - masks galore - baubles and beaded curtains - Tibetan Tankas - baskets and chests promised treasures within - trays of glass eyes - even a plaster skull with a candle on top! And altars. Lots of altars devoted to the world’s varying religions and mythologies.’ Even in his teens, Arnold surrounded himself with a protective layer of ornate and flowery adornments. As Pandora remembers, his décor was ‘like Louis XIV - beyond belief for a child.’
When Steven reached high school age, his curiosity found new corners to explore, including Pandora, his new soul-mate, herself a budding artist of hawk-like visage and rarified style. The two forged themselves in a treasure trove of art history, novel self-identities, and pantheistic pursuits. They were taken under the tutelage of Violet Chew, a gifted art teacher at Oakland Technical High School. Chew taught by ancient Chinese methods, encouraging students to use their art as a means of exploring life’s complexities. She also introduced Steven to junk shopping, art history, cutting-edge fashion, and Eastern spiritual traditions, which had a lasting impact on his philosophy and art. It was also around this time, circa 1960, that Chew’s friend, artist Ira Yeager, noticed that ‘it was Steven who actually initiated ‘hippie’ dress in San Francisco, before it was fashionable.’ The young man of the emerging sixties would be a mix of Edwardian dapper and ruffled peasantry.
By 1961, Steven Arnold, incomparable in demeanour, was accepted into the San Francisco Art Institute in the traditional media, painting and sculpture. But in 1965, with such luminaries as Robert Nelson, James Broughton, and Irving Saraf on campus, Steven turned to filmmaking. Over the next four years, Arnold made a series of neo-Surrealist shorts - Liberation of Mannique Mechanique (1967), Various Incarnations of a Tibetan Seamstress (1967/68), and The Elements (1968) - culminating with Messages, Messages (1969), a sojourn through awareness in which a vast interior space is traversed by a hero looking very much like Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist. This small collection of shorts established Arnold as a visionary as his philosophical pastiche of soul-searching and keen appetites solidified into a discernible aesthetic.
Steve Seid's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.
New York Times
(i) Enigmatic, Transgressive, Gleefully Queer: The 1970s Cult Film You’ve Never Seen (ii) Steven Arnold, the Queer Mystic Who Shaped 1960s Counterculture
(iii) The life and art of Salvador Dalí’s surrealist disciple Steven F. Arnold
(iv) Almost Ephemeral: Steve Seid in Conversation
(v) The Cockettes
(vi) The Steven Arnold Museum and Archives