1967 The Liberation of the Mannique Mechanique
1968 Messages, Messages
1969 Various Incantations of a Tibetan Seamstress
Steven F. Arnold (1943-1994), trendsetting American artist and protégé of Salvador Dalí, was a visionary filmmaker, photographer,painter, illustrator, set and costume designer, and assemblage artist.
After graduating high school in the Spring of 1961, Arnold won a full scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute. In the spring of 1964, after earning perfect grades for two years at the Institute, Arnold took a break to study abroad in Paris and enrolled at Ecole Des Beaux Arts. Feeling confined by the stiff, traditional curriculum at Ecole Des Beaux Arts, Arnold and a group of American classmates rented villas on the small island of Formentera off the coast of Spain. For the next several months the group lived communally, taking LSD every day, experimenting with paints and costumes, taking up residence in caves, and exploring the small island. Arnold recalls: “This new drug was so euphoric and visionary, so positive and mind expanding… I ascended to another dimension, one so beautiful and spiritual that I was never the same.” Arnold also began keeping sketchbooks around this time, a practice he maintained throughout his life.
Returning to San Francisco in the Spring of 1965, Arnold resumed his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute, turning his eye on film-making: writing, directing, and designing three short films over the next two years. By late 1967 Arnold was on the verge of receiving his BFA, and his final student film, Messages, Messages, was drawing critical attention. The film went on to win invites to Cannes’ Directors' Fortnight, the Chicago International Film Festival, and the Toronto Film Festival. Due to the critical success of their film, Arnold and collaborator Michael Wiese decided that Messages, Messages was worthy of a more elaborate hometown premier than the San Francisco Art Institute could provide, so in February 1968, shortly before their graduation, the pair rented the Palace Theatre in San Francisco’s north beach for the occasion. In addition to Messages, Messages, Arnold also curated “a rare collection of early surrealist films by Man Ray, Melies, and old French animations.” The evening was such a huge success that theater owner offered to allow Arnold to continue holding screenings. This led to the March 1968 inauguration of Arnold’s Nocturnal Dreamshows, the very first of the weekly midnight movie showcases that became nationally popularized in the 1970s. The Nocturnal Dreamshows also launched The Cockettes, an influential, groundbreaking psychedelic San Francisco drag troupe, into underground fame. Since 1967, Arnold had also been illustrating posters for local businesses, and was among the original group of rock poster artists in San Francisco, creating
In 1969, while working on his MFA at San Francisco Art Institute, Arnold began filming Luminous Procuress, which went on to win him the 1972 New Director’s award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, an extended exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and a second invite to Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight. Salvador Dalí was so impressed with the film, that he arranged a private screening at the St. Regis Hotel, to which he invited New York’s elite, including Andy Warhol, who also praised the film’s genius. Arnold became a favorite of Dalí’s, and in 1974 went to study with the master in Spain, helping Dali 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. After returning to California, and failing to make any progress on other film projects, Arnold was driven to find new modes of expression. By establishing his Los Angeles photography studio and west-coast salon, Zanzibar, Arnold did just that.