Stop Resisting!

hearsay

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.

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.

whalebone-hand

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

resistance-at-the-threshold-william-stoneham

and Thresh­old of Rev­e­la­tion.

threshold-of-revelation-william-stoneham

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,

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.

Art in Motion

Airplane

As a firm believ­er in form fol­lows func­tion, I have to say, air­planes are some beau­ti­ful engi­neer­ing. That’s why I was excit­ed to check out MotoArt with Ben from Atlas Obscu­ra last Sat­ur­day. Locat­ed right by LAX air­port, this com­pa­ny takes old air­plane parts and turns them into high-end art and fur­ni­ture pieces. I had not heard of them before the tour, but was sur­prised to find they have had a lot of pub­lic­i­ty over their sto­ried his­to­ry — they’ve been cov­ered in numer­ous mag­a­zi­nes, start­ing with a spread in Max­im and cul­mi­nat­ing with a show on Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel called Wing Nuts!

Dave, one of the co-own­ers and co-founders, led the tour. He and his part­ner Dono­van start­ed as sign guys work­ing most­ly for the the­me parks in the area. One day, their scrap met­al guy hap­pened to have an old air­plane pro­peller in his truck, and Dono­van bought it for $100, pol­ished it to a mir­ror fin­ish, and sold it as a free­stand­ing sculp­ture for $1,000. Just like that, the seed was plant­ed. After mak­ing more pro­peller sculp­tures and sell­ing them at a show for $6,000-$10,000 each, the two decid­ed to make this their full-time job.

They have had some inter­est­ing ups and downs along the way. It used to be that when a mil­i­tary air­plane was decom­mis­sioned, a mini-bone­yard would form around it. The scrap­pers would tear the air­plane apart, and the gov­ern­ment would buy back some of the still func­tion­al parts, and then the rest were auc­tioned off to pri­vate par­ties. How­ev­er, Iran was caught try­ing to buy parts from an F-16, and the gov­ern­ment decid­ed that nation­al secu­ri­ty demands that any­thing remote­ly mil­i­tary could no longer be sold off. There are a cou­ple of flaws in the log­ic, though. First, any­thing pre­vi­ous­ly decom­mis­sioned and junked is still OK to be resold. Sec­ond, we sell the­se same air­planes to our allies around the world, and there are no restric­tions on how they deal with their decom­mis­sioned air­planes. In short, it was secu­ri­ty the­ater that just made it more dif­fi­cult for MotoArt to get their hands on sup­plies for new pieces. That said, MotoArt did take out a big loan and buy up every­thing mil­i­tary that they could, and they still have con­tacts and leads to junk­yards with mil­i­tary parts sit­ting around. But they also great­ly expand­ed their use of com­mer­cial air­plane parts, which are unre­strict­ed.

Here are a cou­ple of my favorite pieces from the tour:

B-25 Bomber Desk

First is the B-25 Bomber Desk, from the air­planes per­haps most famous for the Doolit­tle Raid of Tokyo dur­ing World War II. The fab­ric skin was peeled off to expose the alu­minum frame, which was pol­ished and in some cas­es pow­der coat­ed dif­fer­ent col­ors. Dave told us that since they got the parts as-is, some of the­se desk have orig­i­nal bul­let holes in them still.

C-119 Flying Boxcar

The oth­er is the C-119 Fly­ing Box­car Para­troop­er Door Cof­fee Table. While there is not an icon­ic mis­sion that the­se air­planes were used on, the door and the desk are quite beau­ti­ful.

It is a shame I could not even afford a small end table from MotoArt. Dave joked that even as the own­er of the busi­ness, he has trou­ble afford­ing his own prod­ucts — a very nice prob­lem to have. Next time you are by LAX with some time to kill, think about swing­ing down to El Segun­do and check­ing this place out.

Magic Castle Tour

Atlas Obscura’s tour of the Mag­ic Castle guid­ed by Seigfried Tieber sold out before I could get a tick­et. How­ev­er, it was so extreme­ly pop­u­lar, they did a repeat per­for­mance! I got pri­or­i­ty as a wait­lis­ter from the first time and quick­ly secured a tick­et this time. I showed up slight­ly ear­ly and enjoyed a drink at the main bar again as I wait­ed for Siegfried and Hadley to arrive. Here is the pro­gram from that week:

Magic Castle program (outside)

Magic Castle program (inside)

Magic Castle Tour

The tour itself was very inter­est­ing. The Mag­ic Castle is quite a maze, so hav­ing a guide was great. Besides show­ing us the var­i­ous rooms, Siegfried stopped at an emp­ty par­lor to do some tricks for us. Serendip­i­tous­ly, his friend, a fel­low magi­cian, hap­pened to be tak­ing some peo­ple on a tour, stopped to watch and also per­form a bit! (I am sor­ry, I for­got his name…) Siegfried also told us a lot about the his­to­ry of the Mag­ic Castle. Every room is packed with mag­i­cal relics and hid­den gems:

  • Invis­i­ble Irma is a ghost who plays piano behind the main bar and takes ver­bal requests!
  • I learned that magi­cians from the Mag­ic Castle actu­al­ly designed the Haunt­ed Man­sion ride at Dis­ney­land, and there is still a minia­ture of the ride that explains the trick to the ghost­ly appari­tions.
  • The base­ment bar, only open on week­ends, has a magi­cian bar­tender who per­forms tricks as he makes your drinks.
  • We saw a small group of magi­cians ner­vous­ly wait­ing to audi­tion for mem­ber­ship.
  • Milt Lar­son, one of the founders of the Mag­ic Castle, was a con­sul­tant and had a cameo in Bed­knobs and Broom­sticks, one of my favorite clas­sic Dis­ney movies. (He is the unim­pressed spec­ta­tor with the bowler hat in the scene I linked.)
  • We got to peak our heads into the library, which is for mem­bers only.
  • We saw an instruc­tor set­ting up for one of the Academy’s class­es for aspir­ing magi­cians.

The tour con­clud­ed with a Q&A ses­sion with Siegfried, and then he invit­ed us to stay as long as we liked and check out the var­i­ous per­for­mances. In fact, he high­ly encour­aged see­ing as much as we could, because the Acad­e­my had just had their annu­al awards cer­e­mony and many win­ners were per­form­ing this week.

Will Houstoun

First, I saw Will Hous­toun in the Close-Up Gallery. He had just won the Lit­er­ary Fel­low­ship and you could see it in his act. Each trick start­ed with his­tor­i­cal mag­ic triv­ia, he would per­form a relat­ed trick, ask a true-or-false ques­tion, and then reveal the answer. For exam­ple, he told us about one of the old­est tricks, the cups and balls, and its vari­ants such as three-card mon­te. He per­formed a sam­ple and then told us about the most famous magi­cian to do this trick, Mat­ti­as Buchinger (some­times Matthew Buckinger to his Eng­lish audi­ences), who was able to per­form this rou­tine despite being born with­out hands or feet! Spoil­er alert, this one is true!

Matthew Buchinger

Robert Dorian

Next up, I saw Robert Dori­an per­form in the Par­lour of Pres­tidig­i­ta­tion. He is a men­tal­ist, which I usu­al­ly enjoy in small­er dos­es, but not an entire act’s worth. It was a strong show­ing for the most part, but there was one bit where it was obvi­ous he was get­ting frus­trat­ed with the audi­ence vol­un­teer who could not fol­low his direc­tions. My favorite trick was flip­ping through a stack of cards with names of celebri­ties. He asked an audi­ence mem­ber to pick one and said that celebri­ty would then walk into the room. The secret, he told us, is that he got all of them to show up and wait out­side for a name to be called, and then the right one just had to walk in. We could not be sure, though, because the name on the card select­ed was his own.

Rob Zabrecky

Right after Mr. Dorian’s per­for­mance, I got back in line for the Par­lour of Pres­tidig­i­ta­tion to see Rob Zabrecky. If you have not seen him before, he has got a very unique style of mag­ic — very Addams Fam­i­ly or Tim Bur­ton. I think this pho­to says it all:

Rob Zabrecky

I think every one of his tricks was great! An ear­ly one that got me was when he explained that he was work­ing on his social skills. He asked an audi­ence mem­ber to roll a die, and the result cor­re­spond­ed to a num­bered card held in a can­de­labra. On the back of the card was a social con­ven­tion they would do in front of every­one. (This was explained with a bit of a leer to the cute audi­ence mem­ber he had select­ed.) She was quite relieved to get “Hug” on her card. Lit­tle did she know, when he hugged her, we could read the backs of all the oth­er cards, and they all said “Kill.” I want to tell you about more, but I will hold back in case you ever get a chance to see him per­form.

After that, I tried to cir­cle back to the Close-Up Gallery to see Bebel, but unfor­tu­nate­ly the small room had already filled up, so I had to go home only hav­ing seen the­se three acts.