In 2020, Tom of Finland Foundation announced the winners of the Tom of Finland Emerging Artists Competition, which boasted nearly six hundred international entries. Eight creators, renowned worldwide, judged the 2020 contest: Jonathan Anderson, Seth Bogart, Nao Bustamante, Matt Lambert, Felipe Meres, Silvia Prada, Martín Sorrondeguy and Russell Tovey & Robert Diament of "Talk Art."
The purpose of this competition was twofold: to encourage artists to share their erotic work and to elevate the field of erotic art by rewarding the best examples. Grand Prize and the Dean Cameron Multiple Figure Award went to Mr Gruts of New Zealand. He received an original Tom of Finland preparatory drawing as a prize.
“I am overjoyed to hear that my piece has received both the Dean Cameron Award and the overall Tom of Finland Grand Prize. This is a pivotal encouragement in my career in erotic arts and I am grateful to have been selected.”
Tom of Finland Store, c/o CULTUREEDIT, was a sponsor of the 2020 Tom of Finland Emerging Artists Competition and is now pleased to present Love and Power, the artist's first solo presentation.
There is a shift taking place in how we perceive our interpersonal relationships and how feelings of affection, love and power factor into them. It’s been over 50 years since the “Summer of Love” where authoritarianism was challenged and culminated in an anti-establishment festival. This popularised the values of “free love” which went on to define the hippie generation. Since then many have been able to openly question their interpersonal values and how they’re able to realise them under societal pressures. But even though it’s been such a long time from this collective realisation, we’re still painfully beholden to public perception. With the advent of social media, instead of liberating us, it’s involvement in our lives has had a major effect on us. It has become a type of social-image PR where participants show their “best side” and has gone on to reinforce the values we sought to escape during the 60s. People cannot express their own subversiveness when a potential employer, extended family or government official could be observing. And when we express this subversiveness under the guise of anonymity, we lose our individual identities. In participating in this collective adherence, the status quo is unconsciously reinforced.
My work is structured around the fantasy that men are able to enjoy each other sexually without stigma, shame or suffering under the trappings of society. The freedom they feel within themselves is reflected in the world around them. They may be perceived to be physically flawed but are unashamed in their arousal and have ultra-expressive faces that accentuate their feelings.
I work mainly to satisfy the viewer’s basic sexual desires. The best complement I can receive from my work is the viewer’s arousal.
The scenes themselves often feature thickly proportioned men in working class professions or activities. The eroticism I seek to communicate is rooted in the character & expression of the participants. Several works feature common vernacular to accentuate their identity. I want the personality to be apparent and relatable to the viewer, rather than a detached case study. The body type and particular aesthetic come secondary to this main idea. While I am representing a fantasy in these works, much of the eroticism comes from the accessibility of the viewer being able to see themselves in the work. They’re not rendered in a superhero idealization with rippling muscles. These works are often part of a series of images where characters become increasingly aroused as the scene develops.
I’m writing this Artist Statement from New Zealand. While we’re a country that’s been very progressive in terms of LGBTQIA+ recognition, we have a limited scope of what’s expressed in terms of eroticism & sexuality. While masturbation is now being popularly recognised as a social good, erotic art & pornography is still mostly vilified. Many articles have been published over the years about porn addiction. The problematic issues surrounding high-production studio pornography is presented as being endemic with the medium itself. These articles themselves are often surrounded by adverts using women’s bodies in a languid rake-thin idealism so pervasive in modern culture. It often feels like eroticism is only permissible when it is sold back to us in a soft-core characterless product-placement form. Our individual sexuality is only palatable when using a partner as a vessel or staring into nothingness with our own self satisfaction.>
My hope is that from observing my work, people free themselves from the body-shame, sex-negative polyphony our world continues to mire us in. I hope they see that these bodies are attractive in harmony with their perceived “flaws” rather than in spite of them.
I have been alienated from the art world for 15 years. Having dabbled in galleries during my four years at art school, I became disillusioned with the popularity of post-modern concepts and the academic institution at large. To me, the world of contemporary galleries seemed to survive on the principles of monetary investment, obscurantism, fashion and an insincere appreciation by both the viewers and artists of what constituted good art. It all seemed like a joke amongst the bourgeoisie where only a few were privy to the punch line (if it even existed at all, and if it did it often wasn’t very funny anyway). Consequently, I studied narrative art earnestly at independent institutions and went on to work in genre-fiction as a cover artist.
In studying these disciplines, I started to refine my skills in representing the human form. In doing genre-fiction work I was often asked to paint men who are armed, grimacing and in the midst of battle.
While I was conscious of erotic artwork, I hadn’t previously considered it as a career path. I had an epiphany in watching Dome Karukoski’s “Tom of Finland” (2017) film. The themes of expressions in love and mortality struck a chord with me. I decided that it would be a healthier application of my craft to represent men showing affection towards each other rather than meaning to kill each other.
I visited the Tom of Finland Foundation in early 2019 and felt like a kid in a candy store. Tom’s artwork on display felt sincere, relatable, human and (most important to me) fun. It felt so different from the majority contemporary artwork I’d seen on sexuality which often felt isolated, clinical and desolate.
I developed my portfolio in drips and drabs until I took a leap of faith and made a submission for the 2020 Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition. It was very encouraging to receive the Dean Cameron Multiple Figure Award and the Tom of Finland Grand Prize Award. This was the catalyst in propelling me to pursue this art professionally.