Day 86: The Legend Of The Haunted Painting

originally published March 26, 2012

Bill Stoneham was just an artist.

Just an artist trying to make a living in the early 1970s in Los Angeles, painting mostly surrealist stuff he’d hoped people might want to hang on their walls. He didn’t invite evil spirits into his work, but they did him a fair bit of good when they showed up.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, then you may not have been paying attention to Internet memes twelve years ago (though I’m not fully certain they were called that back then). He painted something called The Hands Resist Him, a ‘haunted’ painting which sold on eBay in 2000.

Here’s the painting. Soak it in, drink in its underlying evil:

Stoneham based the painting on a picture of himself at age five. The boy is standing next to a doll-girl, in front of a glass door filled with hands pressed against it. The door is meant to represent the barrier between real life and the world of fantasy, with the doll being the boy’s escort into that world. The hands represent alternate lives or possibilities. Is it creepy? You decide.

Okay, there have been millions of paintings with a creepy undertone. Geiger built a career out of the outright grotesque, so why does this one get so much attention?

Let’s look at the painting’s history. It was painted in 1972, then exhibited in LA at a one-man show called The Bill Stoneham-aganza. (actually, I just made that name up, but I bet he’s wishing he’d called it that) The painting was purchased by John Marley, an actor who gained a modicum of fame for one key scene in some mid-70s Italia-sploitation flick.

According to one source, Marley died within a year of purchasing the painting. He died in 1984, so I’m not entirely sure this is accurate, but for the purposes of making this all a little eerier, why not?

The painting was allegedly found by its next owners on the site of an old brewery in California. How it got there, I don’t know (Satan, perhaps?), but when the couple that owned it tried to sell it on eBay, they said that it carried with it a curse.

They claimed that the characters in the painting moved around at night. They would sometimes leave the painting and enter the room in which it was hanging at night. Into their home.

Now, I’m no art expert, but if characters from a painting were strolling off the canvas and flipping through my DVD collection, I would not be selling the thing on eBay. I would be burning it in my back yard immediately. The house might need to go up too, I don’t know. I’ve been told I overreact sometimes.

They included a series of photographic “evidence” of an incident in which the doll-girl was threatening the boy with a pistol, forcing him to try to leave the painting. Here, see if this convinces you.

The sellers stated that would not be held liable for anything that was to happen to the soul who won the auction. The rumor travelled around the web-wide-world, and before long the auction page had over 30,000 hits. Some people claimed that just viewing the painting made them feel ill, or have some sort of unpleasant experience. I’m sure that’s what every artist wants to hear, that their work made people ill.

And hear about it he did. The Perception Gallery (who cast the winning bid) contacted Bill Stoneham and told him about the auction stories. Bill was rather surprised by the general weirdness surrounding the painting, though he did remark that both the owner of the gallery in which the painting was originally displayed and the reporter from the LA Times who reviewed the show had died within a year of its public reveal.

How ominous! Except that Bill still paints and sells his work through a very professional-looking website, and he clearly still works in the surrealist realm. This could just be his way of adding to the mystique, which couldn’t be bad for business. The story is published on his own website, with nothing offered to support the facts. He also includes a link in case you wanted to buy your own print of the painting. You know, for your guest bedroom.

Bill also mentions on that page that Marley bought the painting at the LA exhibition, so that does away with the story that he died within a year of acquiring it. Oh, and the gun? That was a “battery and a tangle of wires” that the doll was holding, and the windowpane between her and the boy gave the impression of a weapon.

The Hands Resist Him went on the virtual block for $199 to open. But, because the sellers hit a grand slam in spreading around this kooky tale, the final winning bid was $1025. Not a bad leap.

Just like any great piece of suddenly-famous art, the public demanded a sequel. Bill Stoneham obliged, and painted Resistance At The Threshold, featuring the same characters 40 years later. Here’s a look:

It’s not nearly as creepy as the original, but the giant hornet-thingies were an odd choice. Maybe they’re the resistance in the title. Maybe they represent the man’s fears, or doubts, or… I don’t know, maybe they are actual giant hornet-thingies that the artist once saw during a wicked peyote binge, and he wants to share it with the world. I don’t know.

The sequel doesn’t merit its own Wikipedia page, so I won’t pay it a lot of mind. It’s all part of a trilogy, actually, with Threshold of Revelation completed this year.

He’s through the door in this one. Actually, as a trilogy this set is kind of cool. Like I said, I’m no art expert (except when it comes to the Bradford Exchange crap… I pray I get to write about that someday), but I like the progression in the ‘story’ of these three paintings, from reality to fantasy and its various consequences. I might consider owning prints of these three. They’d be a fantastic conversation-starter in the living room. Maybe in the bedroom, as a musing on the nature of dreams, or –

OH! Oh God, no. No way. That’s not good dream-karma. Not my thing at all. I need something soothing to look at immediately.

Categories: art

One thought on “Day 86: The Legend Of The Haunted Painting

  1. Good morning, I wasn’t aware of this painting back then, nor the Artist. But last night, in my dream, December 19th 2020, I dreamt of hearsay of a haunted painting and the name Payton. It stuck when I awoke. So I googled it for fun while having my morning coffee. And boom! There it was with this article. Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m a Shaman- healer, and I connect with spirits daily. I’m wondering what this means. Any thoughts? Email me if u like. Desireahincolor@ . Do you have a print of the other two paintings? The number 3 in most cases is a magic number… the next would be five… maybe he’s making another .. reach out if you like. Cheers


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