‘The Hands Resist Him’ is a painting created by artist Bill Stoneham, who grew up in Southern California, in 1972 and depicts a young boy and female doll, who is ‘holding a piece of herself’, standing in front of a glass door with disembodied hands behind the glass. The painting is reported to be haunted, with previous owners claiming the boy and doll move inside the painting and even leave it and enter the room the painting is in.
Perception Gallery, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA (at least until August 2001)
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
According to Bill Stoneham, the boy in his painting is modelled on a photograph of himself taken when he was five years old.
The doorway is a ‘representation of the dividing line between the waking world and the world of fantasy and impossibilities’, the doll is a ‘guide that will escort the boy through [life]’ and the hands represent ‘alternate lives or possibilities’ or ‘potential routes’ his life ‘may have taken’ but he ‘does not see them’. Reportedly, the boy is ‘either looking to the future, or the viewer is looking back into their past’.
Stoneham was also inspired by a poem, written by his first wife Rhoann Ponseti, to create the painting and took the name he chose for the painting from that poem. The poem was written about Stoneham’s ‘experience of being adopted and never knowing his biological siblings’ and Stoneham was ‘under contract’ with a gallery owner to produce two paintings a month, and, with his next deadline looming he ‘seized upon his wife’s poem’.
He is of the seeing visions
His strokes reveal them
In a rush- of color, of madness
And his head is the highest center
It must confront its enemy,
The hands- resist him,
like the secret of his birth.
His presence is the sanctum heartbeat
Felt in darkness and in passion
Its sound the sole gift to that silence.
– R. Ponseti, 1971
“Where to begin? Well I’ve always had a connection to what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. I think we all do. Artists – especially visual artists – are barometers for the currents that run through this collective. Dreams are a common experience people may have with this. Anyway, my own experience is a sensitivity to place – physical, geographical place. There are memories, echoes of all the life within a place. Maybe it’s what’s called channeling. When I painted the Hands Resist Him in 1972, I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment. The hands are the ‘other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm.”https://www.stonehamstudios.com/haunted (Bill Stoneham, 2019)
Stoneham reportedly displayed the painting at a one-man art show at the Feingarten Gallery in Beverly Hills in Los Angeles in the early 1970s and during the show the painting was sold to the actor John Marley, who played Jack Woltz in ‘The Godfather’.
However, before the painting was sold, it was reviewed by an ‘art critic’ from the Los Angeles Times, who died within the year and the owner of the art gallery also reportedly died within a year. Stoneham speculated that this may have been the beginning of ‘some sort of curse’.
John Marley himself died in 1984 after open-heart surgery, but reportedly sold the painting before his death, and it is unknown who the painting went to next until it eventually turned up when an ‘elderly Californian couple’ reportedly found it abandoned ‘behind an old brewery turned art space’ and took the painting home.
The couple reportedly hung the painting in their four-year-old daughters room and it had only been in the family’s house for ‘a few days’ when she started to complain about it and told them how the ‘children’ in the painting would ‘fight’ and how the girl would ‘threaten the boy with the object she was holding in her hand’.
Later, their daughter told them how the figures would ‘leave the painting as ghosts and continue their fighting’ so her parents decided to ‘persuade their daughter that the painting was just a painting’ and set up a ‘motion-activated camera to watch the painting’ o prove it to her.
They claimed to have left the camera pointing at the painting for three days and nights before they went to view any of the footage it may have captured and, ‘to the shock of the family’, they found that camera had recorded ‘several pieces of footage’.
They claimed that the camera captured ‘several photos’ of the painting ‘almost taking on a life of its own’, the ‘colours changing’, the object in the dolls hand taking on the ‘resemblance of a gun or other weapon’ instead of the dry cell ‘battery and wires’ she was painted holding and the boy ‘seemingly exiting the painting under threat’.
“The object in her hand may have seemed to have changed due to different lighting conditions being present in the dark, but the family insists that something was remiss with the painting.”http://www.theparanormalguide.com/blog/the-hands-resist-him (The Paranormal Guide, 2013)
The family decided they wanted to get rid of it but instead of burning or ‘destroying it in any other way’ they ‘decided to let the public decide’.
In February of 2000, they anonymously placed the painting up for sale on eBay, reportedly, with a description describing it’s ‘elaborate backstory implying that it was haunted’ and claiming that it ‘carried some form of curse’. The family selling it also claimed that ‘the figures moved at night’ and would ‘sometimes leave the painting and enter the room in which it was being displayed’.
“When we received this painting, we thought it was really good art. A “Picker” had found it abandoned behind an old brewery. At the time we wondered a little why a seemingly perfectly fine painting would be discarded like that. (Today we don’t!) One morning our four and a half year old daughter claimed that the children in the picture were fighting, and coming into the room during the night. Now, I don’t believe in UFOs or Elvis being alive, but my husband was alarmed. To my amusement he set up a motion triggered camera for the nights. After three nights there were pictures. The last two pictures shown are from that ‘stakeout’. After seeing the boy seemingly exiting the painting under threat, we decided, the painting has to go. Please judge for yourself. Before you do, please read the following warning and disclaimer.”https://buddybits.com/2013/09/true-story-behind-haunted-painting-the-hands-resist-him/ (Jariwala, 2013)
They also included a waiver ’absolving them from all liability after the painting was sold, and any dangers that may follow’.
“WARNING: Do not bid on this painting if you are susceptible to stress-related disease, [or if you are] faint of heart or are unfamiliar with supernatural events. By bidding on this painting, you agree to release the owners of all liability in relation to the sale, or any events happening after the sale, that might be contributed to this painting. This painting may or may not possess supernatural powers that could impact or change your life. However, by bidding you agree to exclusively bid on the value of the artwork, with disregard to the last two photos featured in this auction, and hold the owners harmless in regard to them and their impact, expressed or implied. Now that we got this out of the way, one question to you eBayers. We want our house to be blessed after the painting is gone, does anybody know, who is qualified to do that? The size of the painting is 24 by 36 inches, so it is rather large. As I have had several questions, here the following answers. There was no odour left behind in the room. There were no voices, or the smell of gunpowder, no food prints or strange fluids on the wall. To deter questions in this direction, there are no ghosts in this world, no supernatural powers, this is just a painting, and most these things have an explanation, in this case probably a fluke light effect. I encourage you to bid on the artwork, and consider the last two photographs as pure entertainment, and please do not take them into consideration, when bidding. As we think it is a good idea to bless any house, we still welcome input into that procedure.”http://www.theparanormalguide.com/blog/the-hands-resist-him (The Paranormal Guide, 2013)
Included in the listing there were reportedly a series of photographs which were supposedly ‘evidence of an incident in which the female doll character threatened the male character with a gun that she was holding, causing him to attempt to leave the painting’.
The painting quickly earned a ‘reputation’ as ‘at least 30,000 people viewed the page’, and more than a few made bids’. Some reported that they had ‘experienced strange events just looking at the painting on their computers’ and throughout the eBay auction the painting ‘still affects those who view it’ and people feel ‘ill and a few have fainted’ or ‘have unpleasant experiences’.
However, children seem to be the ‘most affected’ and have ‘vivid nightmares the night after seeing it, and waking up screaming’ and some reportedly claimed that the children who saw the painting ‘ran away screaming or ‘freaked out’’, others were said to be ‘touched by an invisible force’ and one person who tried to print the image had his printer ‘malfunction’.
One person reportedly claimed to hear an ‘exorcist-type voice, along with a blast of hot air’, another person reported that he ‘became ill while viewing the painting and had to burn white sage to cleanse his house afterwards’ and someone else claimed to have experienced ‘blackout/mind control experiences’.
However, the sellers reportedly backtracked before the auction was over and wrote – ‘there are no ghosts in this world, no supernatural powers, this is just a painting, and most of these things have an explanation, in this case, probably a fluke light effect’. But, this didn’t deter the believers and numerous ‘websites and chat rooms devoted to the legendary “Haunted Painting of eBay” popped up’.
The opening bid was $199 but by the end of the auction, the painting had reportedly sold to Kim Smith, owner of the ‘Perception Gallery’ in Grand Rapids, Michigan for $1025. Smith said in 2000:
“I wish I could report a bizarre happening or mind possession type of thing, but the unusual things started happening with the first email and counting. Prayers and quotes from the scriptures from a man of faith. Advice as how to cleanse my residence of this evil thing from a Native American Shaman in Mississippi. Reports of people being repulsed, made physically ill, or suffering from a black out/mind control experiences.”https://www.dailydot.com/irl/hands-resist-him-haunted-ebay-painting/ (Daily Dot, 2017)
The gallery eventually got in contact with Stoneham, after tracking him down from a label on the back of the painting, and related the unusual story of its auction on eBay and their acquisition of it. Stoneham was reportedly ‘quite surprised by all the stories and strange interpretations of the images in the painting’.
“Bill was not expecting all the fuss over his painting, but was not entirely surprised. There had been the deaths at the original art show, and the fact he put a lot of himself into the painting. He says his paintings resonate strongly with lots of people by opening an inner door, or even channelling through his art. If that is the case maybe something has been caught in his strokes?”http://www.theparanormalguide.com/blog/the-hands-resist-him (The Paranormal Guide, 2013)
Reportedly, someone who saw the story about the original painting contacted Stoneham about ‘commissioning a sequel’ which he accepted and painted a sequel, called ‘Resistance at the Threshold’, in 2004 which depicts the same characters more than forty years later and in the same style as the original.
Zak Bagens, after hearing the story about the original painting contacted Stoneham about ‘commissioning a sequel’ which he accepted and painted a sequel, called ‘Resistance at the Threshold’, in 2004 which depicts the same characters more than forty years later and in the same style as the original.
Later, a third commission was also made by Bagens for a prequel to the original painting and Stoneham created ‘The Hands Invent Him’, in 2017, depicting himself as a boy again but now behind the original painting’s door and holding a paintbrush amongst ‘other visual elements’.
The painting has been in the possession of Perceptions Gallery since at least until August 2001 and, the owner reportedly ‘advised’ Stoneham to check out the various web pages about the painting. Stoneham was apparently ‘spooked’ but not for the same reasons as others were.
“Suddenly, there’s a blown-up image of my face from the painting,” he said. “Now, that was a creepy feeling.” He was, in fact, the little boy in the painting, which he had painted from an old, faded family photo of himself with a little neighbor girl. Then he started reading about the “haunted” lore. His first reaction was to think, “Why would they hang that in the kid’s bedroom?” His second reaction was to wonder how this painting had sparked such a ghost-storm. When he painted it, he said he had deliberately used Jungian and metaphysical symbolism. The door represented a gate to possibilities, and the hands represented “other lives.”https://web.archive.org/web/20050120212242/http://www.spokesmanreview.com/news-story.asp?date=103102&ID=s1244540 (Kershner, 2002)
Stoneham claimed to have ‘never intended it to be spooky, supernatural or even particularly disturbing’ but since the eBay listing for the painting was posted online it has changed his life in ‘many ways’. He also claims that it inspired him to start his own webpage and to ‘begin painting again for the first time in more than a decade’ and also said the ‘strong reaction to his painting, even if not what he intended, was flattering’.
He is also a radio talk show host in Dallas on KDGE-FM and ran a ‘Haunted Painting’ contest in which listeners send in ‘essays about the painting’ which will be judged on ‘creative creepiness’ with Stoneham as one of the judges. He reportedly found the entries to be ‘unsettling’.
“People are getting very carried away, saying that the kid (in the painting) was abused by drunken parents, that sort of thing,” said Stoneham. “It’s like being in a coma in a roomful of people who are all speculating on your life.”https://web.archive.org/web/20050120212242/http://www.spokesmanreview.com/news-story.asp?date=103102&ID=s1244540 (Kershner, 2002)
In 2016, Darren Kyle O’Neill published a ‘dramatized account’ titled ‘The Hands Resist Him: Be Careful What You Bid For’, using the painting as the basis for a ‘fictional tale about a serial killer known as ‘The Life swapper’. O’Neill also reportedly had his own ‘eerie experience with the sinister artwork’:
“I first saw it online when I was living in Dubai. I printed it out and left it on a side table next to some other documents printed on the same printer with the same paper. Anyway, I went to Italy for a month. When I came back, the air conditioning had gone awry, everything was green mold. The TV, bed sheets, my daughter’s cot and clothing, all of my suits in the closet, and the documents I had printed all green. But right next to them, the only thing that was perfectly untouched was the printout of the painting.”https://the-line-up.com/the-hands-resist-him (The Lineup, 2018)
As of March 2017 the prequel painting hangs in Zak Bagans’ Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 2016 Darren Kyle O’Neill published The Hands Resist Him: Be Careful What You Bid For about the paintings ands its alleged haunting.