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Current Issue


Robert Richards’ hot sailors

All for art

By BILL ROUNDY

FIRST YOU NOTICE THE PENISES. The eye is inexorably drawn to them, jutting proudly erect from every flat surface. Impossibly proportioned, dripping, pierced, in black and white.

Then, in a surprisingly short time, the brazen cavalcade of cock becomes normal. You start to notice the delicate brushwork, the ink that makes up a muscled back, and soon you’re thinking…

“Hey, this is pretty good,” a browsing customer says to his friend. “It’s a lot better than I thought it would be.”

This was the scene at the Third Annual Erotic Arts Fair last weekend, presented at the LGBT Community Center by the Tom of Finland Foundation. This year was a special event: the Foundation presented the Center with an original Tom of Finland sketch. The Consulate General of Finland was at the ceremony, and it all made for a pleasant evening: there were speeches, and gifts, and photos of the deputy counsel general and his wife posing with large men in leather.

But for most attendees, the weekend was a chance to roam two large rooms, filled with 35 booths displaying erotic photos, drawings, paintings, sculptures and more. It was a chance to find that perfect picture to hang in the living room, bedroom, or dungeon, as the case may be.

Increasingly, erotic art does go in the living room, says Robert Richards, who has been contributing his luscious draftsmanship to gay magazines since the 1970s.

“People are buying things that are less explicit, but more sexual,” he says. “You don’t want something that turns you on every time you walk into the room. They want to appreciate it as a beautiful object. They want something they can live with.”

He makes this observation at a packed panel discussion on Sunday afternoon, the topic, “Does it Have to be Big to be Sexy?”

“Tom always said that he let the penis be as big as it wanted to be, in that moment,” says Durk Dehner, president and co-founder of the Tom of Finland Foundation. “When you focus on a cock, even if it’s an average-sized cock, six inches, it seems larger because it’s important to you. That’s why he drew them so big.”

In this room, people are thinking seriously about the penis. One audience memeber observes: “The large penis is representative of the male dominance, and the male-to-male competition in our society…”

“Tom’s use of the uneducated, na´ve young man is like Picasso’s use of the Minotaur as a symbol of sexuality,” begins another.

Meanwhile, in the exhibition space, Mark Durham has drawn a menage a trois featuring the male members of the Fantastic Four, the Invisible Woman watching, aghast. Nearby, the Hulk flexes his muscles and displays the gamma- irradiated pole between his legs “People walk by, and they start laughing,” Durham says. “And I love that. To me, it has to be funny...”

AMUSING, INTELLECTUAL, subversive, disturbing: there are many ways to enjoy this erotic art. But none of it is just spank material. If you want pornography, you have the Internet. People come to the Erotic Art Fair for the art. Even at the live nude modeling sessions, there is a minimum of leering. A crowd gathers, but they mostly watch the sketchpads of those drawing.

“You’d think the creeps would come out of the woodwork,” says Alert Crudo, selling photos of Ken dolls getting it on. “But everyone’s nice and friendly. Of course my stuff is a little less erotic than most, so maybe they stay away.”

The customers are just gay folk. They wear T-shirts and jeans, and they browse the art in couples. There are even a few straight people here. (The Foundation welcomes erotic work regardless of gender or sexuality, notes administrator Matthew Blouin, but the event is still dominated by gay men.)

Just beginning her career is Laurel Griffy Caprio: this is her first show, ever. She paints watercolors of women with legs spread and nipples pointing to the sky.

“Oh, no, I’m hetero,” she laughs, almost apologetically. But she doesn’t feel isolated. “Every woman who comes in here stops and talks to me. And the other artists — I’ve made so many friends. I’m definitely coming back.”

Again and again, the artists say that they’re here for the sense of community.

“It’s very isolating work,” says Richards. Sitting alone in the studio, it’s hard to know if anyone appreciates what you’re doing. “It sounds very Pollyanna, but I like meeting people… I like seeing their reaction.”

“The artists have to be nurtured, by each other and by the public,” says Dehner, from the Foundation. “Because they’re still outsiders, they have difficulty getting exhibits and galleries… Here, they can get together and inspire each other.”

MORE INFO
http://www.tomoffinlandfoundation.org/

 


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