Steven Arnold was born on May 18, 1943 in Oakland. He was a surrealist who worked in various mediums: film, photography, painting, illustration, theater, and assemblage. Much of his work focuses on sexuality, transformation, self-realization, and divinity.
Arnold was born and grew up in Oakland, attending Oakland Technical High School. According to his bio in the alumni archive of Oakland Tech, his mother was a seamstress and his father was a hardware store clerk. As a child, he found a number of costumes in his parents’ attic that had belonged to his uncle and began to experiment with dressing up. His parents encouraged his creativity, and he also began to build sets and puppets for shows that he would then perform to his neighbors.
He graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1961, and he left Oakland to attend the San Francisco Art Institute. He received a Bachelor and a Master of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute, taking a break from undergrad in 1964 to briefly attend the École des Beaux-Arts.
Later as a student at SFAI, Arnold and another student, Michael Wiese created a film titled Messages, Messages. This film garnered significant attention in filmmaking communities around the world and was shown at the Palace Theater in San Francisco’s North Beach, sparking a series of film screenings and live performances organized by Arnold and Wiese called Nocturnal Dream Shows. In 1971, he completed Luminous Procuress, a film that was screened in the SF Bay Area and then in New York City, where it came to the attention of Salvador Dalí. Impressed by the film, Dalí celebrated and supported Arnold’s film and then became his mentor. Shortly afterward Arnold moved to Spain to study with him.
Other creative influences on Arnold included people he met while a student at Oakland Technical High School. There he met someone named Pandora, who came to be a long-time friend and creative partner. He also met an art teacher, Violet Chew. Pandora and Chew both came to be great influences on Arnold’s creative practices.
- Oakland Technical High School, 4351 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94611.
- Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, CA 94607. During the Oakland Museum of California’s Queer California: Untold Stories exhibition in 2019, Arnold’s film Luminous Procuress was shown. Much of Arnold’s work dealt with queerness, and Luminous Procuress featured a multi-gender drag performance group that Arnold had worked with often, The Cockettes. OMCA’s online collection also has a poster made by Arnold in 1967.
- Oakland Ballet Company, 2201 Broadway, Suite LL17, Oakland, CA 94612. In high school, Arnold had worked on costume and set design for a play, which had led to his starting a job as a set painter at the Oakland Ballet Company after finishing school. In his autobiography, he describes meeting a young dancer there with whom he had one of his first relationships, before he knew how to articulate being gay.
~ by Christine Iyer ~
Image 3 (Still from Luminous Procuress): https://bampfa.org/page/illumination-procured-steven-arnold-and-body-eclectic
Image 4 (Sea of Transition): https://one.usc.edu/exhibition/steven-arnold-cabinet-curiosities
Image 5 (Still from Messages, Messages): https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Steven-Arnold-Film-Screening—Closing-Reception-this-Saturday-.html?soid=1101105782734&aid=7jancK5aKE8
Image 6 (Still from Luminous Procuress): https://bampfa.org/page/illumination-procured-steven-arnold-and-body-eclectic
Image 7 (Arnold in High School): https://oaklandtech.com/staff/centennial/historical-archive/1960s/
Image 8 (In Gear): http://collections.museumca.org/?q=collection-item/2010542646
Image 9 (Steven in Costume–Potentially an Inspiration for Rocky Horror’s Frank-N-Furter!): https://stevenarnoldarchive.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/steven-arnold1.pdf