Steamboat Museum Surrealism Collections
The Knight, Death and the Devil
by Dave Thomson
At Chouinard Art Institute 1964-68 I made a photo collage inspired by Albrecht Durer's engraving called The Knight, Death and the Devil. This is a self-portrait and portrait of the world as I perceived it at the time. I'm the Knight, a still fresh and naive kid (on the left), and since I was preoccupied with horror movies and such at the time, I had a heightened awareness of danger from Death and the Devil all around me so pictured it both as horror, temptation and a fixed system over which I was powerless but could only maintain a sort of rigid virtuousness which was more of a torment than a comfort. - Dave Thomson
Dave is an animation cinematographer, technical director, Mark Twain collector, and researcher. He has donated more than a thousand images to the online Steamboat museum.
The attached is a mirror image of a detail from a still of Will Rogers from STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND where he was selling his "Pocahantas Remedy" to passengers aboard the PRIDE OF PADUCAH. I put Barry's face where Will's was and substituted Barry's painting of a skeleton for the graphic and "Wizard Oil" lettering from an old patent medicine ad.
The Hannibal, Missouri "ghost tour trolley" stops in front of this house and the guide tells tourists about that ghost of the little girl who is supposed to have been glimpsed in one of the third floor dormer windows.
I took a photo of the third floor while I was a guest there and after returning home I darkened the photo (attached), added storm clouds outside the windows and double exposed the "ghost" of Dakota Fanning who attended a Halloween party in the make up and costume of a girl vampire when she was a little kid.
"We have always lived in the Castle"
Hannibal photographer Georgia's nine year old grand daughter Elizabeth was sulking at her "big sister" Abby's twelfth birthday last year so when Grandma tried to take her picture, Elizabeth exaggerated her frown by pulling down the corners of her mouth. Later Elizabeth relented and smiled for Georgia in another photo.
In my Gothic horror composite I used 'Lizbeth's sulky pose and as a back drop I used the silhouette of a derelict castle from the magic4walls' wallpaper site.
Upon completion this looked like promotional art for a movie or a cover for a novel. The name of Shirley Jackson's very last novel (1962) came to mind so I super-imposed "We have always lived in the Castle," across the top in a font that approximates hand-writing.
"Love the composite. It is quite funny! Elizabeth is a master at making faces and so is Abby. Girls have a flare for being drama queens and our girls have mastered the trend."
Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House" was made into two chilling movies, both entitled "The Haunting." My favorite was the first one in 1963 that was filmed in black and white by director Robert Wise. A color version in 1999 was much more "over the top" and far less subtle than the first version.
The attached I made from combining parts of several paintings by Barry Messer.
The triangular sections on the left and right sides are from one very large abstract of Barry's. I took photos of most of his paintings years ago with my old medium format Mamiya before I ever got a digital camera.
The center portions came from a little painting that I bought from Barry, the skeleton at the bottom was painted on one of the 4 sides of the same painting where the canvas overlaps the stretcher bars.
Olga San Juan was a Puerto Rican singer/dancer/actress who appeared in American movie musicals. Her "Bunny of the Tropics" costume and pose was perfectly suited to the "Tiki" sacrificial themed Primitive Gods behind her that Barry dreamed up.
Salvador Dali's Le Visage de la Guerre at center, on the left Canadian/British Science Fiction author Cory Doctorow and on the right my artist friend Barry Messer of Hannibal, MO.
I harvested Dali's tormented face from the attached and placed it above Cory and Barry, their balloons coordinate with it nicely. Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
I made a mirror image from a photo of Cory speaking at some gathering with his skeleton t-shirt and put Barry's head on the reflection on the right.
Cory responded: "What a fabulous and weird mash up, David!"
Barry's response: "Doctorow looks way more natural in this than I do but hey, I'm hanging with Dali so who cares. I'm getting a big kick from your photomontage. I made a copy of it and hanging it on my studio wall for inspiration. Thanks, Dave, its ingenious."
a robust Valentine starring the stars of the Thai action film Ong Bak 2: Mr. Tony Jaa & Miss Primorata Det-Udom
BACK IN 2001 (CAN'T HARDLY BELIEVE IT WAS THAT LONG AGO) I MADE THIS "HOMAGE/PARODY" OF NORMAN ROCKWELL'S 1936 ILLUSTRATION OF MARK TWAIN'S TOM SAWYER'S WHITEWASHING THE FENCE EPISODE FOR A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS IN HANNIBAL.
I WAS INSPIRED IN PART BY A GRATEFUL DEAD POSTER THAT WAS ALSO A TAKE-OFF ON ROCKWELL'S PAINTING THAT PICTURED THE TWO BOYS AS SKELETONS.
I KEPT THE BOYS HANDS AND FEET INTACT BUT TURNED THEM "DEAD BLUE" AND SWAPPED THEIR HEADS FOR SKULLS.
THE TEXT IN THE UPPER RIGHT IS A PHOTOCOPY FROM MARK TWAIN'S MANUSCRIPT FOR "TOM SAWYER" IN THE CHAPTER DESCRIBING TOM AND HUCK VISITING THE GRAVEYARD AT MIDNIGHT, TAKING ALONG A DEAD CAT AS A CHARM TO RID THEMSELVES OF WARTS. BELOW THE ABRIDGED TEXT OF THE BEGINNING OF THAT EPISODE.
THE MACABRE JOKE OF TOM WHITEWASHING WHILE BEN ROGERS WATCHES HIM WOULD HAVE APPEALED TO SAM CLEMENS WHO HAD A GHOULISH STREAK AND ENJOYED SCARY STORIES LIKE "THE GOLDEN ARM" WHICH THE SLAVE UNCLE DAN'L WOULD TERRIFY THE CHILDREN WITH LATE AT NIGHT AT THE FARM OF JOHN QUARLES WHO WAS MARRIED TO MARK TWAIN'S AUNT.
ANOTHER TANGENT TO THE MACABRE IN "TOM SAWYER" WAS WHEN TOM, HUCK & JOE HARPER RAN AWAY TO JACKSON'S ISLAND AND AFTER HAVING BEEN MISSING FOR A WHILE, WERE ASSUMED TO HAVE BEEN DROWNED IN THE MISSISSIPPI AND A "FUNERAL" WAS HELD FOR THEM AT WHICH THE BOYS HID OUT IN THE LOFT OF THE CHURCH AND DIDN'T MAKE THEIR PRESENCE KNOWN UNTIL THE "FUNERAL" WAS ALMOST OVER.
TOM SAWYER - from Chapter 9
It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western kind. . . (and) had a crazy board fence around it, which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest of the time, but stood upright nowhere.
Grass and weeds grew rank over the whole cemetery. All the old graves were sunken in, there was not a tombstone on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards staggered over the graves, leaning for support and finding none.
"Sacred to the memory of" So-and-So had been painted on them once, but it could no longer have been read, on the most of them, now, even if there had been light.
A faint wind moaned through the trees, and Tom feared it might be the spirits of the dead, complaining at being disturbed.
The boys talked little, and only under their breath, for the time and the place and the pervading solemnity and silence oppressed their spirits. . .
Then they waited in silence for what seemed a long time.
The hooting of a distant owl was all the sound that troubled the dead stillness.
Tom's reflections grew oppressive. He must force some talk. So he said in a whisper:
"Hucky, do you believe the dead people like it for us to be here?"
"I wisht I knowed. It's awful solemn like, ain't it?"
"I bet it is."
Had taken a photo of Cookie when she appeared to be in a "rapture" looking heavenwards. Found Saint Teresa of Avila looking the same and put them together as a pair of devotees. Too sacrilegious even for surrealists?
Dick Cheney's experiencing his own "gestalt." The upper right and bottom center portraits were achieved with a "Rorschach" technique in Photoshop.
Came across this small file online of a surrealistic steamboat painting by Joseph Paul Vorst (1897 - 1947).
Dave comments: My friend Georgia in Hannibal took a photo of her grand daughter Abby who looked like she was singing to her pet rooster Roger while she held an open book about chickens. The background and painted characters are from a Thanksgiving card graphic painted by Linda Picken and published by Leanin' Tree. When I saw the card in a rack of cards on the counter in a local pharmacy I pictured Abby and Roger in the painting.
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