I’ve spent the majority of my time as a resident artist at Tom of Finland Foundation immersed in an archive of Tom’s sketches and preparatory drawings.
I’m endlessly fascinated by the way Tom’s unfinished work allows me to see his brain and hand collaborating, to understand the choices he was making as he crafted his images. In the process of gathering and abstracting his images to inform my own drawings, I was often caught between erotic and analytical responses to his work. As a casual viewer who is attracted to men, Tom’s work is, to put it blandly, easy for me to simply enjoy. As an artist and an academic, I was inclined to engage with the context of the work, to find the politics and the art historical importance. In grappling with these modes of viewing the work, which we are often told are mutually exclusive (especially in academic settings), I’ve come to believe that the only way to understand the work is through the erotic, not in aside from it or even in addition to it.
The drawings have immense intellectual, political, and art historical importance, absolutely, but that content is pinned under the pleasure, smothered in it, dripping with it. A viewer has to first admit desire and open themself to the murky, irrational erotic depths of the work. Reach elbow deep in there, and everything else can be found. (In particular I think that Tom’s work is incredibly political – as the pleasure of the sexual outlaw always is – but he isn’t often credited with this precisely because the politics are bound to the pleasure, and pleasure gets messy.)