Tom of Finland, the Finnish artist famous for his homoerotic illustrations of hypermasculine men, died in 1991. But his legacy lives on — through his art, which adorns queer establishments around the world, as well as through the Tom of Finland Foundation. In addition to preserving Tom’s oeuvre, ToFF works to carry on Tom’s spirit by protecting and fostering erotic artworks and the artists who create them.

For over 15 years, the foundation has hosted an artist-in-residence program. Each year, several artists are invited to stay at the TOM House in Los Angeles — where Tom himself once lived and worked — for three months to learn from ToFF’s extensive archives as well as one another. At the end of their term, they present artistic projects from their stay to the public.

Ahead, enjoy a presentation of these works from the newest class of artists, who share how Tom’s legacy continues to impact LGBTQ+ culture. Learn more about the program, ToFF’s upcoming emerging artist competition, and the Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival at tomoffinland.org.

This article is part of the Out May/June issue, which hits newsstands on May 28. Support queer media and subscribe— or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting May 14.

TRISTOR BLUE

@tristorblue

Why do you create art?
Artistic expression in general is a way for me to process my life experiences, a way to reflect and tell stories…. My dream is to be able to show through my work that each human body and its sexuality is a gift to be taken care of and to be nourished, whatever form it might take.

How has living at TOM House impacted you as an artist and human?
During the three-month stay, I built friendships, networks, had uninterrupted time to do research on the history of erotic art, and [worked] with live models, practicing classic figure drawing, sketching, painting and photographing. The time given helped me to try new techniques and approaches to my creative flow. I continued with my illustrated Bathroom Selfies, which is an ongoing series of intimate portraits made with my audience on social media. Everybody is capable of pleasure, so everybody is worthy of it. Everyone is worthy of a sexy portrait, all shapes and sizes.

Why is Tom of Finland’s work relevant today?
I think the message of Tom’s work stays the same through the times: We can be strong, open, playful, and confident no matter what our sexual expression, body image, or gender identity is.

FLORIAN HETZ  

Untitled, 2017

@fxhetz / @florian.hetz

Why do you create art?
Because I can.

How has living at TOM House impacted you?
As a human, it showed me how beautiful intergenerational living can be. For the first time in a long time, I experienced community again. As an artist, it gave me the chance to study Tom’s work and his research practices up close. Being able to have access to his originals is a big privilege.

POL ANGLADA 

Pleasure Park, 2023

@polanglada

Why do you create art?
I have been drawing since an early age both as a form of entertainment and as a journaling of my different stages in life emotionally, somehow tracing a personal map.

How has living at TOM House impacted you as an artist and human?
Personally, my experience at TOM House was very enriching. [I loved] having the privilege of not only living amongst Tom’s work and research but also being able to share a space with [program director and ToFF cofounder] Durk [Dehner], [chief experience officer S.R.] Sharp, and everyone at the foundation, as well as my amazing housemates. The intergenerational connections, the talks and atmosphere of that space made me see myself in a way I thought [had] long gone.

Why is Tom of Finland’s work relevant today?
Tom’s work is part of the modern vocabulary. Tom’s drawings have merged long ago with the gay, homoerotic way we look at kink, fetish, and ourselves.

OAT MONTIEN

One Foot Forward, 2022; Pastels on paper; 15” x 22”

@oat_montien

Why do you create art?
I want to share with the world what turns me on, and at the same time expand/question what is considered “sexy.” Erotic artists have the power to shape the image of desire, and I am fascinated by that.

How has living at TOM House impacted you as an artist and human?
It’s an experience like no other, where you can fully be yourself in a queer sanctuary. I talk, I walk, I fuck differently at TOM House. The spirit of Tom always looks after me and tells me to be horny and make art about it. The archive at the house also really pushed me to look deep within my work: with a million drawn penises everywhere already, what is unique about mine? What really turns me on and how to translate that into my work? It’s a journey that totally changed me as a person as well as an artist.

Why is Tom of Finland’s work relevant today?
There’s a lot to learn from his works: how desire was constructed, how hypermasculinity was perceived, then compared to now, how his art created a cult following, the way he structured all of his images for the most visual impact, etc. There’s also a plethora of inspiration when it comes to taking his work and placing it in the contemporary world: What do Tom’s Men look like now? How do they fuck? Most importantly, as queer people at war with shame and guilt that hetero society puts on us, we still need the images that uplift us, give us sex-positivity, give us hope for happiness.

STUART SANDFORD

Polaroid Collage XXV, 2022

@stuartsandford

Why do you create art?
I create art because, really, I don’t think there is anything else I can do. I feel compelled to do it because I have questions to ask of the world and, for the most part, I love doing it.

How has living at TOM House impacted you as an artist and human?
TOM House had a huge impact on me. I was initially only supposed to be there for three months but, in total, I lived there for about five years — that says a lot in itself. It became my home — and the people there, my second family. As an artist, it was a daily inspiration because of the sheer amount and scope of work the foundation has in its archives to draw upon, and as a human, because of all the weird and wonderful folk that passed through the front door.

Why is Tom of Finland’s work relevant today?
Tom’s work is full of joy and connection. And in these increasingly divided, chaotic, and difficult times we currently find ourselves in, we need those things now more than ever.

​BRONTEZ PURNELL

@brontezpurnell

Why do you create art?
To make the line between the past and present more visceral for me — with the life I lived — the past and present become so blurred. The art I make always seals a time, place, and location of who I was at the time it was made.

How has living at TOM House impacted you as an artist and human?
It’s just nice to be in a place that represents this potent and very long history of queer radicality — but perhaps more importantly, community and family.

Why is Tom of Finland’s work relevant today?
Tom of Finland’s work is beyond “relevant” — the more appropriate word for it is “immortal.”

RAGE OF EVERY COLOR

You want to see me explode into colors, don’t you?
If I could dream of every night and be so quick to silence it
annihilate each laid brick
of the house I retrofit
you deliberately misinterpret me, like, constantly
see me only as the man
who represents
the ten bridges I’ve burnt
but not the hundred that I’ve built
girl, fuck you
whether or not
multiplicity is
to your taste
I shall give you a feast

—Excerpt from Ten Bridges I’ve Burnt: A Memoir in Verse by Brontez Purnell. Published by MCD, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2024 by Brontez Purnell. All rights reserved.


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