Durk Dehner grew up in Alberta, Canada, and attended fine arts programs at The Allied Arts Center in Calgary, Alberta, the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and The Vancouver School of Fine Arts. Dehner cofounded Tom of Finland Foundation with Tom himself in 1984 to establish an archive for Tom’s life history and work. He modeled for photographers Bruce Weber and Ken Haak, and began working with Tom of Finland in 1978 as his public relations liaison. Dehner was instrumental in bringing Tom out of the underground and focusing public attention on his work. He continues as head of the Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
Dian Hanson began her publishing career as a magazine editor, helping found the 1970s hardcore journal Puritan, then moving on to Partner, OUI, Adult Cinema Review, Outlaw Biker and Big Butt, among others. She was most famously the editor of Juggs and Leg Show fetish magazines from 1987-2001. Since 2001 Hanson has held the position of Sexy Book Editor for art book publisher, TASCHEN, in which capacity she writes and edits all the sexually oriented titles for the company.
F. Valentine Hooven was born in Philadelphia and has spent much of his adult life in the theater, writing, designing, and acting regionally and in New York. Since leaving the theater in the mid-eighties, he has been a full-time freelance writer and illustrator, appearing in most of the popular gay publications of the 1980s and ’90s until focusing on Handjobs, which has published all of his erotic work since 1999. He is the author of the full-length biography, Tom of Finland – Life and Work of a Gay Hero, published by Bruno Gmünder Verlag, and an artist-member of Tom of Finland Foundation.
912 South Hill Street 90015
Nude Figure Drawing and Painting
Each month the Foundation offers a friendly and positive environment to practice your skills.
[Early arrival suggested due to parking availability]
Spinning the tunes: DJ RocketManLA, with over 100,000 songs!
$25 suggested donation at the door.
Scholarship funds available.
Coordinator: Miguel Angel Reyes
[Kindly notify if you must cancel]
Through 5th September
We talk to artist John Walter about his new work Alien Sex Club…
With his daring new immersive installation Alien Sex Club on in London until 14th August, and going to the Homotopia festival in Liverpool on 30th October, boundary-pushing ‘maximal’ artist John Walter tells us more about this unique work – addressing gay cruising and HIV today with surreal humour.
I am working on a Phd which heavily informed Alien Sex Club. It explores how the cruise maze is a risk prone spatial form because it has multiple pathways as opposed to the labyrinth which has a single path. Cruise mazes are real structures within spaces of sex such as sex clubs and gay saunas; they are not mazes like the one at Hampton Court, rather real or temporary wall formations that encourage circulation of space through walking to encourage physical proximity and multiple sexual encounters. They simulate the park, the city street, the cottage and the gym as spaces that are repurposed for sex and privatise that experience.
The cruise maze is also a metaphor within the Western gay male sexual imagination that has fed into the way cruising websites, such as Squirt, and online apps, such as Grindr, are structured. I wanted to make a show that explored the logic of the sex club, particularly the spatial layout and the behaviours associated with the space. I also made a video while at the Skowhegan residency in the USA called In the HIV Garden. It was set in the forest and began to address the interests that have grown to become Alien Sex Club. That video also suggested new technological and conceptual possibilities and challenges that I have been working on over the past 3 years to bring Alien Sex Club to fruition.
Attendees can expect to be surprised. Seeing all the parts together, overlapping and joined and simultaneous is a transformative experience. The show is an immersive world of colour, image, pattern, sound and taste; it is an overstimulating parallel universe; a maze that can be wandered again and again to find more experiences, more meanings and more relationships between the parts. It is an epic installation in terms of its size and its meaning. I hope that afterwards they feel something has shifted for them; that they have been put beyond their comfort zone but supported along the way. The show is about lots of things not just cruising and HIV. It’s about art and media and formal things too. You can enter the show on a number of levels and go on a number of journeys. It’s not didactic.
People think that HIV is no longer a Western problem. We don’t talk about it as much as we did in the ’80s and ’90s and we don’t have the same public health messages being broadcast to the entire population. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has made HIV a treatable, though not curable, condition and it has also made HIV an invisible and private condition. HIV rates among gay men seem to be rising – or at least diagnoses are rising – and this is due to a number of factors including perception of risk and shifting sexual practices, such as chemsex.
Being part of the Homotopia festival is very exciting for me. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s a unique platform for presenting work and helping stimulate discussions about queer subjects. Also, working in Liverpool is hugely stimulating for me since the city and its artistic scene are so rich, energetic and generous.
What do LGBT people do when they’re not having sex?
The exhibition features some 70 works drawn mostly from the Leslie-Lohman Museum collection and range widely in subject matter, medium, and style, cover the period from early 20th century to the present, and offer a suggestive panorama of LGBTQ lives in the United States that–until now–has been neglected by museums, galleries, and historians.
The theme is timely in a decade that has seen the unprecedented mushrooming of same-sex marriage, child-rearing, and domesticity increase in acceptance both legally and socially. The thrust of queer politics has shifted from asserting our right to be different and erotic toward demanding the right to do what everyone else does. “Domestic front,” is a military metaphor that stresses the essential contribution that daily living must continue even in wartime, as with the soldiers during war on the “battle front.” Living queer lives has long been an active battle front in America’s ongoing culture wars. Now, the queer fight has shifted from our right to be different toward the right to be “normal” and unremarkable. Queer genre imagery is a weapon in our battle to secure what we might call the radicality of the ordinary.
On the Domestic Front will contribute to a long-running socio-political debate within the LGBTQ world: are we, apart from our sexuality, “just like everyone else,” or alternatively, do we have a distinct sensibility or style (or many of them)? Homemaking is an act of everyday social performance, a way of realizing and expressing a sense of self and a sense of belonging. Home life, in practice, can often be a source of pain, yet the idea of home always promises more—love, friendship, comfort, pleasure, and the possibility of reinventing them all. The exhibition is divided into four thematic sections: home, work, play, and fantasy.
Curated by James M. Saslow
Through 25th October
For several decades, beginning in the 1950s, Touko Laaksonen, a corporate advertising designer based in Helsinki, moonlighted as a pornographic draftsman named Tom of Finland.
Working primarily in the medium of graphite drawing, he created a visual world of pneumatically buff, spectacularly well-endowed men, who — dressed as lumberjacks, truck drivers, soldiers, bikers, or not at all — met in complicated, often multiparty sexual congress. The action could get rough, but the drawing was always smooth — fine-lined, subtly shaded — and the faces of the participants almost invariably sunny.
The work, widely circulated in printed formats, has been exhibited sporadically in New York galleries, but never in the quantity, or with the historical perspective, afforded by the current two-site Artists Space show, split between a survey of almost 200 drawings at 38 Greene Street and a display of supplementary material (mostly collages) at 55 Walker Street.
Mr. Laaksonen, who died in 1991, was forthright about his reasons for making his work: In addition to giving expression to his personal fantasies, he wanted to produce an image of gay men that counteracted the atmosphere of oppression and the stereotypes of effeminacy he had grown up with. In the process, he all but invented the hypermasculine “clone” look of the 1970s, with its defining wardrobe of leather and jeans.
Still, for the influential role he played in bringing us here, to a freer, queerer place, this artist deserves deep thanks. Seen in more intimate settings, his art can still inspire its intended delights.
Complete article by Holland Cotter
Touko Laaksonen’s work has been elevated to the white cube under the auspices of “anti-normativity.”
Tom of Finland gives the finger to such earnest critique, then shoves that finger up your asshole and licks it clean.
“Tom of Finland” was the creative pseudonym of Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), a Finnish artist and ad man best known for elaborate ink drawings of men having sex with each other. The tableaux are elaborate in their detail, in their execution, and in the elaborate sexual cornucopias they depict. The most notorious are orgies of inexpressible Dionysian dexterity. Walking through the show, my companions and I vigorously debated the physiognomic feasibility of various constellations, to the dismay of the galleristas on duty, reaching a consensus of “difficult but mostly feasible.” Less debatable is the instant recognizability of Laaksonen’s distinctive aesthetic: chiseled Nordic facial bones; bulging asses and crotches so gigantic they’re just an inch from the grotesque; force, bondage, and leather; and a confident hypermasculinity in every gesture, both an assertion of dominance and an implicit sexual solicitation. These are the proprietary rights of a trademark that has made Tom of Finland probably the single most important influence on gay men’s visual sensibility since World War II. His style is inimitable but unmistakable once you’ve seen it.
Now filling both locations of Artists’ Space in Soho, Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play, is the largest single show of the artist’s work to date. In the Walker Street space, notebooks of Laaksonen’s collages are displayed in horizontal glass cases, while the gallery on Greene Street is installed with a maze of walls hung the full set of 1940s gouaches, 180 drawings, and over 300 reference pages covering his entire career as an illustrator. Though representing only a fraction of the thousands upon thousands of images he produced in his lifetime, it’s enough to convey the work’s seminal impact on virtually every segment of the contemporary homosexual imaginary, from Abercrombie & Fitch’s suggestive softcore to the leather stylings of XXX porn.
No less articulate is the endless iterative polyvalence of Laaksonen’s sexual imaginary. You’d think that there are only so many ways to brandish and worship a giant, erect cock, but that idea is belied by these images, which range from the tame tug-of-war of the early works——one or two men, often dressed, sometimes subtly touching but frequently simply watching each other, their dicks just barely contained by scraps of fabric——to the cum-drenched leather fuckfests of the later drawings, with their spewing phallic centerpieces. Laaksonen’s commitment to exhausting his material from every possible angle is inspiring. If you get tired of the thematic repetition, it’s only because it’s easy to focus on the sex and miss one of the most enlivening components of this work: a wry good humor, full of winks, nudges, and grins.
Underrepresented in the show are the images with which Laaksonen’s multi-frame graphic narratives would often conclude, their protagonists sprawled spent and soaked on the ground and dumb, satiated smiles on their faces, conveying not just the immersive allure of sexual hedonism but its fleeting, awkward nature. This tongue-in-cheek awareness separates Tom of Finland’s work from mindless beefcake as well as from his plentiful imitators. It’s a celebration not of sexuality as an abstract concept but of raw, unbridled sex in all its messy corporeality, encompassing in its admiring sweep not only aggression and bondage and penetration but also the awkward performative stutter of cruising and the sloppy indignity of post-coital bliss. The work glories in it all equally, without reservation or judgment, and it’s this unadulterated joy, aware but unashamed, that is Tom of Finland’s greatest aesthetic achievement.
It’s a celebration not of sexuality as an abstract concept but of the raw, unbridled, messy corporeality of sex.
In its playful lack of judgment, the work also abuts a more subtle documentary tendency. What Tom of Finland shows in his meticulously detailed renderings is nothing less than a world. For all the stylized exaggeration, the absurd element of these unlikely fantasies is firmly rooted in a reality that, however unlikely, is still coherently distinctive, a world with habits and tendencies and histories, ritualized cruising and hierarchies of power and sexual availability. Like the dime novels and cinema serials of the early 20th century, these stories unfold out of each other; the sex is often preceded by the tail end of a previous story and succeeded by a hint of the next one.
What Tom of Finland documents is a commitment to a particular mode of sexual existence that is about much more than style or aesthetics. These men’s harnesses aren’t simply fashion accessories but also signifiers of a gradually emerging sexual subculture, a sexual ethos, and a sexual identity, that of the newly liberated homosexual leather man, as homosexuality slowly springs to light from its hushed mid-century subtexts. What makes this documentation even more fascinating is the fact that this newly emerging sexual world emerged directly under the influence of Laaksonen’s own work, which circulated furtively in the years when penises were still considered obscene. When those newly self-identified leather men went to have custom leather outfits made in the West Village, they took with them illustrations by Tom of Finland.
Between the ‘50s and the ‘70s, Laaksonen’s work traces the emergence of a living sexual habitus. If there’s a narrative to the retrospective, it’s the story of that subculture’s emergence. Over a period of two decades, a remarkable shift occurs in the art’s perspective, from a secretive voyeuristic gaze savoring at a slight distance the homoerotic interactions of nominally heterosexual men, to a demonstrative eye surveying with proud confidence an elaborate and distinctively homosexual ritual. It’s one thing to imagine two soldiers on leave helping each other out or a leather-clad biker accepting the drooling relief of a hitchhiker’s mouth; these are fantasies that strain against the probability of a heterosexual norm but not its possibility. But the full-body leather and elaborate multi-player bondage scenarios of the later work depict not uniforms but costumes, not fruitful accidents but ritualized performances, a language of desire stitched together from the raw materials of the most normative heterosexual virility.
Last year, L.A.’s MoCA hosted an exhibit dedicated jointly to Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer, the publisher of “physique pictorials” in whose pages Laaksonen’s work first appeared in the U.S. Tom of Finland’s cult status has been enshrined for decades, and for a certain kind of urban gay buying one of Taschen’s voluminous collections of his work has been a rite of passage for a while, but now his brand of hedonistic, multi-player ritual is being canonized by the white box establishment. Kink and fetishism are all the rage, and the art world isn’t any more immune than other worlds to the contagion of cultural trends. But beyond the immediate vogue for bondage-scented visuals and accessories, the elevation of Tom of Finland’s work fits into a critical and curatorial mood that has long dominated the intellectual relationship of institutions to sexuality in general – and homosexuality in particular – and that can be summed up as “anti-normativity.” Guided by an astoundingly stubborn misreading of Michel Foucault that was born in the 1970s, the anti-normative critical tendency insists on the inherent ethical value and the inherent revolutionary potential of “alternative” sexualities against what it perceives as an oppressive norm.
What exemplifies the “symbolic order of heterosexuality” more than a muscular man literally fucking the planet with his erection?
By Fuck Theory
Tom of Finland valloittaa New Yorkia
Tom of Finlandin laaja homotaiteen kavalkadi New Yorkissa on hätkähdyttävä – taituruudessaan ja suoruudessaan. Näyttely saapuu ensi keväänä Helsingin taidehalliin.
On juhlavaa astella newyorkilaista Greene Streetiä. Lyhtypylväissä komeilee suuria mainoslakanoita suomalaisen Tom of Finlandin The Pleasure of Play -taidenäyttelystä kadun varren galleriassa. Alue on Manhattanin Sohoa, vapaamielisen kulttuuri-Amerikan sisintä.