Through 1st May
QUESTION: Tom of Finland is perhaps your most famous contemporary working in the same field of pornographic art, and the artist you are most often compared with. Didn’t he also explore the unvarnished truth about male sexuality?
REX: Yes he did, but in a romanticized and idealized way. On that level it is much more profound and engaging on a more sensual level than my work. His intellectual approach to male sexuality is never mean or crass but positive and uplifting. Those are extremely difficult emotions to convey when springing from a purely sexual context. Tom studiously avoided portraying any degradation or demeaning situations in his work. In his era it was important to portray homosexuals as masculine Gods to lend self-esteem to homosexuals that they were being denied from the wider society. His drawings are suggestive of the Greco-Roman view of Men as Gods. I’m am only interested in portraying mortals being perceived as Gods in those moments of suspended disbelief that can happen when we are in the throes of sex.
Tom’s work has a more universal appeal with a generic quality which translates across all cultures where homosexuality exists. His work is timeless. Tom’s prototype is blond; mine is brunette. His men are absolutely clean and flawless, mine are imperfect and soiled. And finally, his medium was lead pencil which is soft and pliable, which lends his work a smooth satin finish. My medium is pen and ink which is hard and unyielding, incapable of half tones which give my Men a hard sharp edge. However, in psychological terms I would never attempt to cover the same mental territory he did. I work the other side of the street.
The artist known only as REX has proved to be one of America’s most controversial and enduring artists. Over the past four decades his meticulously detailed pen-and-ink drawings have delighted and outraged a worldwide audience with their homoerotic subject matter, sometimes sweet and sometimes raw. He began homoerotica in the sixties at a time when such subject matter was illegal under American laws against both erotica, and homosexuality. Because signing your name to such work risked imprisonment, he became known simply as REX. For producing his work he became “persona non grata” in the American art establishment which till this day still considers his work “too hot to handle” due to some of its subject matter. Since the sixties he has lead a reclusive life as a cult figure and underground artist with an international reputation enabled thru pirated reproductions of his work first in print, and today on the internet. Forbidden to exhibit his work uncensored in the US, he is currently having the first public exhibition of his uncensored work in over 15 years at Amsterdam’s CNCPT13 gallery.