Meet the Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition Judges

by Joshua Graham on 2 August 2022

Glenn Martens, Honey Dijon and Mr Gruts sound off on Tom of Finland’s lasting legacy and the importance of queer erotic art.

Glenn Martens, Honey Dijon and Mr Gruts sound off on Tom of Finland’s lasting legacy and the importance of queer erotic art.

Declaring Tom of Finland the father of queer erotic art would be an understatement. Born Touko Valio Laaksonen, the Finnish illustrator’s instantly recognisable beefcakes have led to queer awakenings around the globe since his work was first published in magazines like Physique Pictorial in the 1950s. The hyper-stylised masculinity of his imagery was heavily influential to 20th-century gay culture, helping establish the 'clone look’ thanks to his leather donning Adonises.

Continuing the legacy of the legendary artist, the Tom of Finland Foundation is putting the spotlight on the next generation of queer erotic artists with the 11th instalment of its Emerging Artist Competition. Looking to elevate the field of erotic art, the contest is open to all mediums across photography, illustration, paintings, mixed media, and digital renderings. This year's winner will receive an original Tom of Finland illustration, a Foundation membership, and will be featured at the Tom of Finland Art and Culture Festival taking place in October.

Tom of Finland Untitled (Preparatory drawing), c. 1975, © 1975 Tom of Finland Foundation

The last competition was held in 2020 with a star-studded lineup of judges including designer Jonathan Anderson, musician Seth Bogart, and Talk Art Podcast hosts Russell Tovey and Robert Diament. This year six internationally renowned creators including Diesel creative director Glenn Martens, Honey Dijon, and the 2020 grand prize winner Mr Gruts will be tasked with choosing the standouts who will be announced at the Art and Culture Fest. We spoke to the three judges about their involvement, and the influential artist’s lasting legacy.

Glenn Martens

Glenn Martens

Why was it important for you to be involved in the Emerging Artist Competition?

‘I would love to say that in 2022 we should be able to freely express ourselves in peace and with respect for others. Regardless of the amazing work the foundation has done for so many years, homoerotic art is still very often cancelled, stigmatized or even persecuted. Being part of the community I hope my support can help speed up the process of acceptance. But also, I just love all that amazing art!’

What makes Tom of Finland’s imagery so relevant?

‘It’s a symbol of freedom and fun. We need fun.’

How has Tom of Finland inspired your work?

‘His approach has always been radical. I try to work according to a similar spirit. I try not to make too many compromises.’

Honey Dijon

Honey Dijon

Why was it important for you to be involved in the Emerging Artist Competition?

‘It was easy because I love to champion all art, new and old. Finding new art that you love is exciting. This contest is a real honour for me as I do not doubt that there is a lot of unseen talent out there and this could be the start of an amazing journey for someone.’

What makes Tom of Finland’s imagery so relevant?

‘The work has a timeless energy. I was so lucky to spend some time at the house in LA recently and it was so inspirational. I like to think about and imagine how powerful this art was and still is in the time it was created, because we live in a totally different time now which sadly seems to be less free.’

How has Tom of Finland inspired your work?

‘I’m always trying to push boundaries in my work and challenge people's perceptions about sexuality. Art allows us to explore these conversations and to take these conversations to a wider audience. I use a lot of illustration in my own projects that champion culture that exists outside of the mainstream.’

Mr Gruts, Country Club, 2020

Mr Gruts

Why was it important for you to be involved in the Emerging Artist Competition?

‘Being part of the Tom of Finland Foundation’s Emerging Artist Contest was important for me as it kick-started my career in erotic arts. I’d spent many years finding my niche after having been encouraged through various routes. I completed my university degree in Fine Arts many years ago and had since had several years of experience in animation and producing genre work. I’d managed to visit the Tom of Finland foundation some years before the competition and decided to dedicate myself to producing erotic art. The competition was the first time I’d shared any of this art with the rest of the world. Having my work win the Dean Cameron multiple-figure award was enough in itself, but winning the overall grand prize still fills me with joy. And my Mum has never been happier for me, which is great.’

What makes Tom of Finland’s imagery so relevant?

‘Tom’s work is still as relevant as it’s ever been. In not just appreciating his remarkable skills as a draftsman, we can observe themes of sex-positivity and a wider representation of the male homosexual community. In the field of contemporary arts, there is a tendency to compartmentalise imagery dealing with sexuality. Often in galleries, this is relegated to photographic imagery which is cold, static, isolated and almost medical in its communication of sexual themes. In mass media sexuality there is a reliance on exploiting idealised female bodies in titillating the viewer. Tom was able to subvert the often assumed ideal of male homosexuals by presenting muscled masculine-presenting men enjoying themselves with other men. These images are a celebration of the myriad attractions experienced in male intercourse. They share the joyful experience of unrestrained interpersonal sex with the viewer rather than titillating the viewer with coy restraint and unattainability.’

How has Tom of Finland inspired your work?

‘The joy in Tom’s imagery is a keystone influence in my work. His interracial figures remind me of the importance of intersectional representation today. I want more than anything to help people realise how attractive they can be even when falling well outside the purview of what society considers sexually permissive. While my representations will only represent what I find attractive, I am lucky in that I find a large range of men and body types desirable. Tom’s work has instilled hope in me that we are not limited to our “types”. In his day that perceived limitation for the homosexual community was to Caucasian effeminate-presenting men. His work helped form communities who could realise that they were far from alone and that heteronormative society’s views on homosexuals would not be the only viewpoint that would define us.’

Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition 2022

Submissions for the Tom of Finland Emerging Artist Competition end on 31 August at 8:00 BST, with winners being presented at the 2022 Art & Culture Fair held 8-9 October.

Explore

Interview

Conversation: Durk Dehner on Tom of Finland

06 March 2020
To celebrate the erotic artist's centenary, the co-founder of the Tom of Finland Foundation talks Tom's art, life and legacy.
Interview

Interview: Queer discrimination, art and breaking out

03 July 2019
Jazzelle Zanaughtti discusses look 6 from her queer transformation with Nick Knight.
News

Is Menswear Entering Its Daddy Era?

13 July 2022
Tom of Finland’s legacy was felt throughout the S/S 23 shows that were rife with denim, leather, and a touch of kink.
Back to top