One of the most interesting (and most accomplished) is the Artist and Actor, Robert Dean Stockwell. Dean lives a low-key life here in Taos, which is not to say he’s a hermit or reclusive in any way. He’s not. He’s often out and about in town, on his way to lunch at one of our many restaurants, picking up his favourite Cuban cigars (he’s never without one) or standing in line at the atm with everyone else.
Most of the time however, Dean is busy in his studio making the surreal digitally enhanced photographs and collages he has become known for in the Art World. His dice sculptures also take up his time and are truly extraordinary works.
Last Saturday, Heather Sparrow and I accompanied Robby Romero to Dean’s home, where we spent a couple of hours talking about the astounding body of work he has created over the years.
While we talked, Heather got in close for some of the great shots you see here. Her knack for making people feel comfortable is a real gift. Dean went from not wanting to be photographed to agreeing to be in a matter of minutes.
His dice constructions are perched on tables and stands around the living room which has large windows that face the Mountain. I wrote about these pieces for Paul O’Connor’s Taos Portraits.(That’s Paul’s iconic portrait of Dean at the top of this post.) The crosses, an opaque white one in particular, I found especially compelling this time around. On an arm of each one, a small object is poised as if piercing the structure. Heather and I quietly wondered about them.
“They’re hummingbirds,” he told us matter of factly. “Taking the nectar.”
Dean is of course a bona fide Hollywood legend. His career as an actor spans more than 60 years. The films he’s appeared in are too many to list here but you can visit imdb to discover them all. His career began in childhood during the 40’s and continues to this day.
One of only three actors to win the Best Actor Award at Cannes twice, he has older fans who remember him from their youth as well as countless younger fans from the work he did in Frank Herbert’s classic, Dune and the Quantum Leap series. Needless to say he has a Star on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
His latest outing in Director Rick Alverson’s Entertainment was screened at the 2015 Sundance Festival to rave reviews. Clearly Dean is showing no sign of slowing down, nor is he limiting himself to one medium. Motion Pictures, Art, Photography are all a part of his oeuvre.
A little known but interesting bit of trivia is that his photograph of fellow assemblage/collage Artist, Wallace Berman is included on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Album.
A musician himself, Dean’s involvement with Pop Culture and the Music that gave it voice, goes way back. A screenplay he wrote was the inspiration for Neil Young’s classic After The Gold Rush. He also designed the cover art for Young’s American Stars’nBars Album. His and Young’s friendship has been a long one and one of my favourite collaborations of their’s is the Cult Classic movie, Human Highway.
“We made that movie without a script,” he recalled.
Dennis Hopper had encouraged the screenplay that inspired After The Gold Rush and rumour has it when Dennis was looking for a ranch to buy after making Easy Rider, it was Dean who suggested he look in Taos.
Robby has known Dean since he was in his early teens. He recalls Dennis Hopper announcing one day that Dean was coming for the Summer (to The Mud Palace) and that “Dean was a really crazed, weird, realHollywood Actor.” Robby remembers “Dennis and the gang gathered in the courtyard as Dean pulled up in a big brown Lincoln Town Car.”
Obviously Robby wasn’t scared off as it is evident the close friendship the two men maintain is extremely familial. Robby joked that it was always Dean who rescued him from some of the crazier moments taking place in the house that summer, while Dean smiled as he relived the stories.
Surrounded by incredible art, his own and works he’s collected over the years, in his sunny living room, Dean talked a little about the collages he makes using the images he’s been cutting out of papers and periodicals for years.
“I still have a stack of Life Magazines I haven’t even looked at yet.” He said.
I asked him about his process and he told me it was utterly random, inspired by the moment he’s in. These pieces are immediate and uncontrived; their spontaneous energy evident in the final outcome. He indicated a piece hanging on his wall of what appeared to be four astronauts drowning in a swirling current.
“That’s my favourite at the moment,” he told us. “I think it’s the best one I’ve done.”
He reminded me of Bob Dylan then, another old friend of his. Bob says things like that. Perhaps the real similarity is that both these men have a singular gift for staying in the present moment.
He asked if I’d seen his Limited Edition Boxed Set of 22 Collage Cards, titled Anon. I told him I had and he explained how they’d come about.
“Before he died, (the renowned assemblage artist ) Bruce Conner sent me a box of the images I used,” he said. “It was addressed to Anon (Dean Stockwell) from Anon (Bruce Conner) and so I made them Anon.”
The Anon set is exquisite. The cards remind me of the 22 Major Arcana from the Tarot and in fact much of Dean’s work has metaphysical references which hearken to his long association with Wallace Berman his mentor and friend, whose interest in metaphysics and the Kabbalah informed his own intriguing cutouts and Collage Art.
Dean’s getting ready to make a series of large collages and plans to have another show of his work presented by Eagle Thunder here in Taos soon. His one man show at the Gallery at The El Monte Segrado Resort and Spa last year, presented and curated by Robby Romero with Jennifer Longo, was a huge success. That’s where I first saw the Anon Cards.
While Heather took photographs I wandered over to the wall surrounding the kiva fireplace and looked at a small collage he had made of the back of what appeared to be a nun, her coif and bonnet forked, juxtaposed against a crouching gull, wings spread, ready to take flight. A Zeppelin and large sphere dominated the background. The sheer audacity of the melange amused and excited me.
I was struck by the poetics of the image and saw in an instant that direct “connect” to the Beats, the jazz and the jive.The poetry of the street.
I blurted out, “I think your art impacts me even more than your acting.”
“That’s good,” he said without blinking, “it should.”
I’m listening to Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush as I type this, hearing it in a new way after all these years.
“Neil’s the best,” I had said to Dean as we talked about Human Highway.
“Yes,” he agreed. “At the end of the day (for his generation) it’s him, Dylan and The Beatles.”
And maybe Dean Stockwell too.
Portrait of Dean Stockwell at top of post from Taos Portraits by Paul Oconnor
Photographs of Dean’s dice pieces, Dean and an art wall in his living room by Heather Lynn Sparrow