Ahead of Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival’s crash landing in London this weekend, the Foundation’s cofounder tells us the radical artists we should keep an eye out for
“I know my little ‘dirty drawings’ are never going to hang in the main salons of the Louvre,” Tom of Finland once said, shortly before he passed away aged 71. “But it would be nice if our world learns to accept all the different ways of loving. Then maybe I could have a place in one of the smaller side rooms.” Those ‘dirty drawings’ – his fantasy depictions of beefy, confident men clad in tight uniforms, their muscles bulging as far as their tumescent packages – may not have made their way to the walls of the Louvre alongside the museum’s various portrayals of scantily clothed women, but instead tour the world to reside in galleries and private collections to live on as revolutionary, uplifting emblems of underground queer culture. On 22nd and 23rd July, the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival 2023 lands at London’s The Standard Hotel, bringing with it an immaculate roster of Queer art – each artist advancing the indelible legacy of the Finnish artist.
The festival, now on its 27th iteration, is the ongoing work of Tom of Finland Foundation, cofounded by its namesake artist and his close confidant and muse Sir Durk Dehner in 1984. With the theme All Roads Lead to TOM guiding this year’s celebrations, the Festival is an embodiment of Tom of Finland’s sexually liberated ideals, which exist more than simply to titillate, but to reflect an empowered Queer culture that feels extensively marginalised. “There used to be a very strong definition that if [work] contained sexual expression it was pornography,” Dehner says, “then there was an opening of the concept that pornography could be creative in its development, so it might contain creativity and have merit within the artistic realm.”
These symbols of Queer identity can spur validation in communities, but remain provocative for blurring the boundaries between art and porn. When Supreme Court Justice judge Potter Stewart was asked to describe his test for obscenity in 1964, he responded: “I know it when I see it” – but it’s a flimsy line that’s often tripped upon. “Michelangelo’s David has been banned in some American school systems,” Dehner continues, “then you travel to Italy and other European countries and nude sculptures are everywhere. Man has a constant desire to label identities.”
Opposing all forms of prudishness, the festival offers a safe space for Queer people and kinksters in the erotic art field – for pleasure and freedom of the mind and body. Promoting Tom of Finland’s work in America and internationally, Dehner has worked for years promoting pro-sex attitudes through his film, publishing, photography and events, acting as a guardian of erotic art, preventing such work from discrimination and destruction. Here, with the landscape of queer art in constant flux, Sir Durk Dehner spotlights four rising artists to watch out for at the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival 2023 and beyond.
Published: 19th July 2023Tags: AnOther, Durk Dehner, George Pistachio, Institute of Digital Fashion, James Davison, Marc Aurèle-Debut, Matt Pagett, ToF Art Fair 2023