"Modesto's Lovers" – Dr. Hodel's personal Rorschach

 Artist Fernando Modesto Confirms George Hodel Patronage  

                         “By 1990, Hodel had bought more than a thousand of his                           erotic paintings spilled with vulvas, phalluses, and mouths                                      dripping with blood.”    

                                         Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS/Newsbreak    

Manila, Philippines, July 10, 2009

 In an interview with Kristine Servando of the abs-cbnNEWS.com. entitled,A portrait of the artist as an oddballDr. George Hodel was described as Modesto’s,”biggest fan and most avid patron,”  Acknowledging Hodel’s decades old financial support by purchasing many of the artist’s early works, Modesto informed the reporter: 

“At least he [Dr. Hodel] supported my career. So I could support my parents.”

(From 1970 to 1987, Dr. George Hodel, then a Manila resident, collected over 1600 original Modesto drawings and paintings.)

I quote (in bold) from Kristine Servando’s interview where she addresses the George Hodel/Fernando Modesto connection:

 “Biggest fan

The early part of his career (when he was in his 20s to his 30s) was spent painting what he calls “nasty pictures” or a vast erotica collection.

His biggest fan and most avid patron was Dr. George Hodel, a prime suspect in the sensational murder of 1940s Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Short or “The Black Dahlia.” Hodel saw Modesto’s paintings at a 1970 exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and loved them.

By 1990, Hodel had bought more than a thousand of his erotic paintings spilled with vulvas, phalluses, and mouths dripping with blood. Psychiatrists and crime profilers had a field day with that.

“Yeah, I’m trying to hide that,” Modesto said a bit sheepishly, though Hodel’s alleged involvement in the Black Dahlia murder was never proven. “At least, he supported my career. So I could support my parents.”

Dr. Hodel even hired Modesto to make graphs for his medical papers. To this day, Modesto said, Hodel never explained why he liked the paintings so much.”

In, Black Dahlia Avenger, Chapter 19, “The Final Connection Man Ray Thoughtprints, I discuss Fernando Modesto’s relationship with my father, and focus on one of his erotic drawings from 1986 which I entitled, “MODESTO’S LOVERS.”


 As most readers of BDA know, it is my strong conviction that my father, a close friend and admirer of the famous surrealist, Man Ray, staged the Elizabeth Short crime-scene as an homage and tribute to his guru-master and fellow Dadaist, Man Ray. How?

By using several of Man Ray’s art works as his “inspiration.”  I offer two of Man Ray’s most famous pieces, The Lovers and The Minotaur, both created in the mid-1930s, as “Peoples Exhibits 1 & 2” 

For those interested in an in-depth review of the Surrealist connections I would refer you to Chapter 19 as well as FAQ 58.1

In 1986 or 1987 my father and his wife, June Hodel, traveled from Manila to Paris, France where George Hodel hand-delivered to Juliet Man Ray a copy of “Modesto’s Lovers.” (Juliet’s husband and George’s friend and “surrealist guru” had died a decade earlier, in 1976.)

For now, I will limit my discussion to the Fernando Modesto drawing as discussed in BDA, Chapter 19, page 244-45 where I asked the question:

“Did George Hodel specifically commission this drawing and provide the artist with all of the details to be included, or did Modesto merely use his own creative energies and imagination, independent of his patron? The answer may be hidden in the work itself and what it appears to represent. First, the work is a form of flattery: it’s an imitation of Man Ray’s “lover’s lips” that extend across the horizon. However, unlike the Man Ray work, the lips in the Modesto are not full red, and the bottom lip is only partially covered. Also, the irregularity of the bottom line in the Modesto suggests dripping blood rather than lipstick. And directly above the lips are three human phalluses. To the left of the lips is a blue canal the shape of a vagina, above which a squadron of nine yellow and ten blue oval-shaped objects seem to be flying, each with its own trailing sperm-like tail. Do the two different colors represent George Hodel and Fred Sexton? These were some of the questions I asked myself when I looked at this painting again in the context of what I had just discovered. I am also convinced that my father’s trip to Paris was no simple visit but a pilgrimage, a formal presentation of Modesto’s Lovers to Juliet Man Ray to honor the memory of her late husband and Father’s friendship with him.

In and of itself, the Modesto painting is a best tangential to the case I’m building. But, Modesto’s Lovers actually becomes an integral part of the suspect/psychiatrist’s own Rorschach blot, revealing his personality and emotions…

The images below show a comparison of the crime scene photographs of Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short to 1935 surrealist photographs by Man Ray which depict his LOVERS in combination with a woman’s bisected body and his MINOTAURE again, showing a woman’s bisected body, with arms posed above her head, the elbows bent at 90′ angles, just as the killer has posed them at the crime-scene.


minotaure lovers.JPG


In the months preceding my father’s death (May, 1999) having returned to the United States, it was his plan to market and sell his vast Modesto Collection. (Over 1600 separate original drawings/paintings)

To that end, he began to prepare a  high-gloss catalog describing the artist’s skills and talents. This catalog copy was not comprised of Modesto’s interpretations of his own art, but rather those of his patron, a pioneer in marketing, a businessman, and a psychiatrist. I quote from excerpts of father’s original brochure writings which interpret and describe his protege’s works:



By Dr. George Hodel

(Father, describing Modesto’s erotica from the 70s)

“They seem to have several levels of meaning. One level appears to reflect the artist’s views on the universality of the erotic drive, which impels all creatures and unites them in a cosmic identity”

(Father, describing Modesto’s admiration of Man Ray)

“Homage to Man Ray. Modesto has always greatly admired, and has been inspired by, the work of Man Ray. He has collected many books on Man Ray, and often looks at these photos, paintings, and sculptures.”

(To my ear, it sounds like we have some big-time “transference” here. I believe what we are hearing is not so much “the artist’s views” but rather those of his patron – George Hodel. It is Dr. Hodel  who believes in “the universality of the erotic drive and is greatly inspired by the works of Man Ray.”

Fernando Modesto –  Early Erotica

GHH Modesto collection.jpg 

 Fernando Modesto Bio/Awards –  Kulay-Diwa Gallery of Philippine Contemporary Art



  1. jasong on July 15, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Elizabeth Short’s body destroyed to create a “greatest hits” of surrealism?
    I haven’t read the Nelson/Bayliss book Exquisite Corpse (yet) but does it point out the Magritte angle as well? Magritte of course depicted vaginas as mouths (most famously in “Le Viol”). The section of Elizabeth’s thigh and the grass inserted into her body (if that fact is true) made that statement — eating meat and vegetable.
    If, in an alternate universe, it wasn’t your father who did this horrible deed he certainly would’ve known who did (and probably revealed it later in life) or made it his life’s work to find out.

    • Steve Hodel on April 3, 2019 at 7:56 pm

      Jasong: The three surrealists that “acknowledged” George Hodel’s “masterpiece” were Duchamp, Copley and Man Ray. At least so far. Not sure about others? I do not believe the grass inserted is accurate? At least I’ve never seen it in any crime scene photograph. The section of flesh cut from her left thigh, a rose tattoo, yes that is accurate. It was my father and his surgical skill which was required to perform the “hemicorpectomy.” skh

  2. Steve Hodel on July 15, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Magritte is mentioned in the Nelson/Bayliss book, however, as I recall it is in reference to his depiction of “sectioning” of female bodies. The book also includes a comparison of the section of left thigh cut out from victim Short’s body to an identical cut in Salvadore Dali’s MINOTAURE (1936). Nowhere in any official report have I found any mention of “grass” being inserted in the mouth or anywhere else. As far as I am aware, that is myth and fiction.

  3. Karen Conrad on July 20, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Well over a thousand pieces? I own one good piece of art myself, and it pretty much occupies a whole wall in the one room! Even a handful of “smaller” works, properly displayed, takes up a bit of room. He must have stored most of these somewhere while in the Philippines- did he then bring them or just some when he moved away again? Were there many left when you were there in Hawaii helping June (at the very beginning of this extraordinary journey)- or had he sold most, I wonder? He could justify the interest as a professional one, given what you’ve discovered about his teaching days. That would be a lot of artwork to unload at one time, if he needed to do so quickly…
    BTW, for anyone who hasn’t picked up the Exquisite Corpse book yet, it does go far in “strengthening” Steve’s argument by making clear the connections between George Hodel and the surrealist art movement and some of the characters involved, and, especially some very specific works as possible “models” for what was done to Elizabeth Short. Quite eerie. Also, very, very explicit and difficult to view. The casual reader is forewarned!

    • Steve Hodel on April 3, 2019 at 7:52 pm

      Karen C: These were small individual unmounted drawings. He had them shipped after he relocated to San Francisco in 1990. After his death June had me archive the drawings individually by taking a photo of each one, which took some time. He had almost ALL of them at that time. Have no idea where they or June is now? SF? Japan? Yes, I’m sure he had additional storage items in Manila but have no idea where or what? Steve

  4. Steve Hodel on July 20, 2009 at 9:04 am

    In the months following my father’s death (May 16, 1999) I visited June on a regular basis. In an effort for her to try and maintain some “continuity” she asked me to help her catalog all of his Modesto collection by video-taping each numbered drawing. At that time the entire collection was intact and father had just begun preparing a sales brochure for marketing. I doubt anything additional has been done to date?

  5. Floyd Dehanne on December 21, 2012 at 6:06 am

    Mr Hodel are you aware of Modestos latest exhibition and do you think this is cashing in on the success of your book? (Follow URL)

    • Steve Hodel on April 3, 2019 at 7:47 pm

      Floyd D: No, was not aware of his exhibition. Is there a website link or address to view it? Thanks, Steve

  6. Steve Hodel on December 21, 2012 at 10:44 am

    FD: No, not aware of it. Can you resend me the link. For some reason it did not post? Thanks, Steve

  7. Genevieve on April 3, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Any chance the pictures that are missing on your site will come back? I only just found you!

    • Steve Hodel on April 3, 2019 at 7:45 pm

      Genevieve: Not sure on the pictures? They are attempting to, but taking a long time so? Best, Steve

  8. gum shoe on September 5, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    Hello Mr. Hodel,

    Very brave work you have done. It is an invaluable piece in the middle of more than one puzzle.

    Have you ever heard of this piece from the Dadaists? It makes me wonder how many other “artists” there were working in the same vein.


    Before going down among you to pull out your decaying teeth, your running ears, your tongues full of sores,
    Before breaking your putrid bones,
    Before opening your cholera-infested belly and taking out for use as fertilizer your too fatted liver, your ignoble spleen and your diabetic kidneys,
    Before tearing out your ugly sexual organ, incontinent and slimy,
    Before extinguishing your appetite for beauty, ecstasy, sugar, philosophy, mathematical and poetic metaphysical pepper and cucumbers,
    Before disinfecting you with vitriol, cleansing ypu and shellacking you with passion,
    Before all that,
    We shall take a big antiseptic bath,
    And we warn you
    We are murderers.

    (Manifesto signed by Ribemont-Dessaignes and read by seven people at the demonstration at the Grand Palais des Champs Elysees, Paris, 5 February 1920).


    • Steve Hodel on September 5, 2021 at 6:12 pm

      Gum Shoe:

      Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated.
      No, I have not seen this, but thank you for forwarding it to me. Such “lovely thoughts” they go right along with the nihilistic thinking of that time. The link you included is excellent. Will try to take a deeper dive into it. Many thanks.

  9. Wally Ballach on November 21, 2022 at 5:42 am

    Steve, I am in the middle of your riveting book, Black Dahlia Avenger, which I find very difficult to put down. Your in depth analysis and psychological profiling is very much in tune with your Scorpion nature for dissecting and plumbing the depths of human nature at its most grisly. In spite of the fact that the heinous murders were committed by your own father, you bravely and honorably make the truth of the matter a top priority over sensitive family ties, including your poor mother who succumbed to the demons of alcohol. You have a prodigeous understanding of human nature and a pure soul. I wish there were more like you.

    • Steve Hodel on November 21, 2022 at 11:59 am

      Wally B:
      Thank you for the kind thoughts. Much appreciated.
      Yes, Dorothy Harvey Huston Hodel’s life was tragic in so many ways.
      The real personal shock waves of discovery were slow to unfold and not fully realized until
      nearly the end of my trek. culminating in “In The Mesquite” and “The Early Years” Best Regards, Steve

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