This past Sunday, I went to an art tour of Hearsay at the LosJoCos Gallery, hosted by Cindy from Cartwheel Art and Hadley from Atlas Obscura. This exhibit was all about art exploring urban legends. The curator and several artists were there to speak to us about the pieces, too.
If you know me, you know I am fascinated by the weird, so this was right up my alley. Although every piece was eye-grabbing, one section particularly engrossed me — Gregg Gibbs’ work surrounding The Hands Resist Him.
If you are unfamiliar with that piece, it is more commonly known as the “eBay Haunted Painting,” and is very well documented. Gregg is a very entertaining speaker, and I am not sure where truth ends and showmanship begins, but here is how he lays it out:
In the 1970s, an artist named Bill Stoneham was looking to make a name for himself so he walked into the Feingarten Gallery, the most prestigious in Los Angeles at that time. Chuck Feingarten, the owner and dealer, was so impressed with his work that he brought Stoneham’s portfolio on the spot, set him up with a stipend to produce two paintings a month for a year, and offered him a one-man show at the end of that year.
Over the course of the year, Stoneham produced The Hands Resist Him as one of those required paintings. It is said that he was inspired by an old whalebone carving of a human hand with a poem etched into the palm.
The artist also said that the boy is a self-portrait, the hands represent the demands of others, the door a veil between worlds, and the doll a guide for passing back and forth.
When it came time for the show, The Hands Resist Him was the only painting to sell. This is where the strange circumstances of the painting seem to begin. Supposedly, the buyer, art dealer, and art critic at the show all died within a year. (According to Gibbs, though, the dealer died almost a decade later, and the art critic did die within a year, but due to cancer, which he already had been diagnosed with. The buyer, John Marley, famously played Jack Woltz — the man who wakes up to a horse head in his bed in The Godfather, also lived for many more years.) Rumors aside, Stoneham was so upset after the show, he quit the art scene and moved to the Bay Area to work for George Lucas, including on Howard the Duck.
After the death of Mr. Marley, there is a dark period where the painting’s provenance is not clear. The story picks up again when a “picker” finds it in the trash by the Brewery Arts Complex and takes it home. Supposedly, he displayed it in his living room, but it upset his mother because at a certain time of day, the lighting made it appear as if the doll/girl pulls a gun on the boy, and he distances himself from her within the painting. He sells it in a garage sale to the famous eBay sellers.
The eBay sellers, of course, claim that they felt a presence around the painting at night, heard the figures arguing followed by a gunshot, and then the boy comes out of the painting. They claim not to believe in ghosts but ask for a “blessing” on their house after the painting is removed. At this point, there are all sorts of stories about people experiencing strange phenomena purely from the digital pictures of the eBay listing, including printers catching on fire when people attempt to recreate it, and even a woman claiming items on her desk would move on their own after she set the picture as her desktop background.
Gibbs claims to have gone to see the painting — the eBay buyer is an art dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and still has it. He said that he asked a Michigan paranormal society to investigate the painting, but they “could not find anything conclusive” and he did not experience anything out of the ordinary when he saw it. Stoneham was contacted shortly after the eBay sale and said that he had forgotten all about the piece, and it was not supernatural to his knowledge.
Thanks to the story going viral, though, Stoneham was commissioned to do two follow-up paintings, Resistance at the Threshold
and Threshold of Revelation.
Neither have had any strange occurrences attributed to them. It has also inspired works by others, such as Nicola Verlato’s The Haunting of the Haunted Painting,
my personal favorite piece from this exhibit.
What do you think is the truth? Is The Hands Resist Him really haunted? Is the eBay listing an elaborate hoax and/or performance art piece of its own? I’ll have to see for myself next time I’m in Michigan.
UPDATE: I wrote about another piece at the show.