Widely considered to be the most influential maker of homoerotic images, Tom of Finland's illustrations of muscle bound bikers and pioneering use of fetish iconography paved the way for boundary-breaking expressions of queer sexuality in the 20th century. And while the artist himself may have passed away three decades ago, his enduring legacy has continued into the present through the work of his namesake Tom of Finland Foundation and its mission to protect, promote and preserve LGBTQIA+ art for generations to come.
So in honor of Tom's 101st birthday, curator Brooke Wise organized [Welcome to] Sexology 101 — a digital show and Artsy auction to raise money for the Foundation — with the help of women-led porn and sex toy company, Bellesa.
Featuring over a dozen emerging and established artists whose practices center of the celebration and representation of LGBTQIA+ bodies, this cohort of queer and ally artists — including Chloe Wise, Simon Haas and Hein Koh — have dreamed up a slate of works in multiple mediums that "teach" sex ed with a twist. And the goal? As Brooke explained, it's to "uplift these voices, supply a platform and celebrate the queer community" through a focus on visibility and amplification, particularly when it comes to "seeing queer bodies even in itself as a form of activism."
She continued, "All the pieces in the show explore sexuality in some way. Some of the work is more overtly sexual than others, and some explore love more so than sex and fetish. All artists in the show have been influenced by Tom's legacy and their work can be seen as a love letter to what Tom helped build and promote sex positivity, community and inclusion."
"Eric Pissing at Sunset" (2021) by Chloe Wise
After all, as Hein relayed, she's always been a "big fan of Tom of Finland's drawings," given that there are parallels between his oeuvre and her own work, which "often has an erotic or perverse element to it." And seeing as how influential as his art continues to be, Chloe also pointed out that it was paramount to throw her weight behind an organization meant to "safeguard and protect queer and erotic artists" like Tom and his progenies.
"Bodies like LGBTQ bodies are never represented enough, or represented accurately enough, in mainstream media, although things have gotten better," Hein added, before noting that it's "always been up to the arts to promote and advocate subcultures from a firsthand and personal perspective. The mainstream catches on way after art has embraced a point of view that runs counter to the mainstream. That is how we grow as a society."
For Simon, the Foundation acts as a "beacon for queer people, particularly for gay men," which reminds him "very much of the camaraderie and freedom" of iconic gay getaways like Fire Island and Provincetown.
"We don't have many spaces that are just for us, so when one does exist you can actually feel the essence of being a gay man," Simon says. "It is sweet and dark, it's about pleasure and safety. It's a magical feeling. When I think of the ToF house, I think of exactly that. It's a place where we are kind to each other and feel cocooned. It's the place that gave me to internal freedom to start making erotic art."
So in the vein of Tom himself, all of the donated pieces are inclusive, sex positive and pro-kink, such as Chloe's painting of her boyfriend's "juicy man booty" and Hein's spandex sculpture, which references S&M and resembles a "vagina but also a woman's torso," alongside a pair of hands as "symbolic darkness."
"Anonymous" (2021) by Simon Haas
"John" (2020) by Simon Haas
As for Simon, he's auctioning off three pieces that are representative of his body of work, including a drawing of an anonymous dick pic sent to him by someone who saw his number etched on the Foundation's bathroom wall. Pointing toward his "fascination with how barriers and anonymity are baked into my own sexuality," the work simultaneously tackles the "physical barrier of a bathroom partition, the psycho-social barrier of a hetero-dominant world and the digital barrier of a phone screen with a grid of torsos" within what is "essentially a portrait of a part of a man's body that is at once a little forbidden and also very essential to them."
On the topic of penises, Simon's second work depicts a tongue in a foreskin as a "beautiful moment of connection," which he compared to "Adam's finger touching God's in the Sistine Chapel." Additionally, the piece also celebrates the natural beauty of the foreskin — a body part "subject to a lot of brutality" — as a way to convey his anti-circumcision stance. Meanwhile, his third artwork is a lithograph of his friend and muse that serves as a simple yet tender reflection on male beauty, made in "admiration" sans "any of the darkness that usually tinges my work."
"Tongue in Skin" (2020) by Simon Haas
Most importantly though, all of this is to say that [Welcome to] Sexology 101 — in all its transgression and overt eroticism — can be considered an act of protest against the censors and gatekeepers that be. However, it's also something made all the more pertinent when you consider the ongoing silencing of queer art and artists, especially when it comes to forms of expression that celebrate their bodies and sexuality.
"LGBT+ acceptance and liberation has definitely come a long way, but we are still outliers. I and several queer artist friends of mine have been relentlessly censored by Instagram," Simon explains before adding, "If anyone thinks that LGBT+ people enjoy equal rights and freedoms in the US, they are not paying attention."
Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.
Photos courtesy of Artsy/ Tom of Finland
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