Glory Hole blog

Jonathan Johnson on Artistry, Tom of Finland, and the Flying Cock

Merging pop culture with high-end craftsmanship is no easy task. Just ask Jonathan Johnson, the jewelry artisan based out of Hamburg, who has perfected the technique with handmade gold plated and sterling silver pieces that manage to retain their sense of luxury despite their tongue-in-check designs. Putting a twist on everything from gay iconography, to the practice of jewelry making itself, Johnson’s latest venture is a collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation, which see the craftsman translate symbols from the Tom universe into statement jewelry pieces that are at once luxurious and fun. Central to the collection is the Flying Cock, the first insignia of Tom of Finland Foundation, drawn by TOM himself in the vein of subversive insignias found throughout his body of work. Johnson translates this into everything from rings, pins, and even a necklace that bears the extra large cock in pink epoxy resin. Below, Johnson weighs in on the collaboration, and his deep connection to Tom of Finland - both the man and the culture he helped inspire.

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Can you tell me about Flying Cock, your latest collaboration with Tom of Finland Foundation?

In 2015 the foundation invited me to Los Angeles where I was able to deepen my studies into the archive, getting to know the work of Tom intensely. For me, the Flying Cock is an incredibly strong symbol, it attracted me immediately.

How did you develop the collection? Can you tell me about the process?

I have a sense of the sculptural; when I make my jewelry I carve wax by hand and pour it then into metal. I do not use 3D printers, I am the printer myself. The first piece I really wanted to have was the massive, fat belt buckle with the Flying Cock. I took a piece of wax and began to work the hard cock out of the soft wax. It was not easy. I needed several attempts, because I wanted to have a cock that Tom would have been proud of. When the belt buckle was ready, I traveled to Los Angeles a second time to discuss further details.

I produce everything myself, from the wax model, through the mold making to the casting and finish. This is very important to me and my employees, on the one hand because we have complete control over our pieces and their quality, and on the other hand because I pay my team fairly and produce jewelry exclusively from recycled material. Whoever fights for freedom, for human rights and for equal rights, must produce in this way. Gradually, the other pieces were added, the costume jewelry parts, the engraved buckle and ring.

 

 

 

When did you first come across Tom’s work? What relationship do you have to his life and work?

It all started at the age of 16 when I became interested in house music and began collecting records and DJing at house parties. At that time I was often in Mannheim. The ecstatic, hedonistic and peaceful parties shaped me and I moved to Karlsruhe. I wanted to study art there with Luc Tuymans, but I had no money at all and my evenings as a DJ and Punk did not allow me to attend the entrance exam at the Art Academy. At that time, a friend always sent postcards with Tom of Finland comics. This was the first time I came in contact with his pictures. I became a club resident DJ and the owner and his friend were big fans of Tom of Finland. They also had a Gay Cruising Club where I DJed more often. Incidentally, I began to make jewelry. I was always enthusiastic about the leather outfits, all of which came straight from the cosmos of Tom of Finland.

Sounds like a fascinating time! Can you tell me more about what it was like?

I started in a small gay club in Karlsruhe a monthly party series entitled Ghetto Disco. These evenings were always parties of freedom, where everyone could be as they wished, which was wonderful in a small German city. Inspired by role models like Larry Levan and his Paradise Garage, we created a free zone with no limits. At some point, however, I decided to completely commit myself to goldsmithing and moved to Hamburg.

 

 

How did this inspire your practice?

What I experienced at parties where music, art and politics were found should also be reflected in my jewelry. Tom of Finland was always included in my cosmos. When I first met Bruce LaBruce everything was condensed - he opened up even more to me the queer world that I love because it stands for freedom and equality. I was exposed to the severing from deadlocked role models, and to the the hedonistic questioning of man and all his fetishes, which make him human.

In 2014, we released a perfume called Obscenity, which sheds light on the link between religious and sexual ectasis. The New York Times fashion blog reported on it, and shortly thereafter the Tom of Finland Foundation wrote to me if I could imagine designing a jewelry collection based on Tom's work. It took me 1 year to travel to Los Angeles to get fully acquainted with the world of Tom of Finland. It was breathtaking. What excites me most about Tom's work is the incredible amount of high quality drawings he made in his life! I am a craftsman and fascinated by very small-scale, precise things. Tom's drawings are so detailed, so fine, so artfully wonderful and at the same time incredibly obscene, pornographic, romantic, joyful and dangerous. A unique blend. I was instantly in love and deeply impressed. With my collection I would like to pay homage to this unique universe! I love Tom of Finland.

 

 

Do you have a favorite Tom drawing?

I would be lying if I chose just one. For me, all his pictures hang together, like a DJ set spun together, one after the other, into an endless carpet of desire. However, I admit, I'm a fan of Kake. Therefore, I have chosen him to find a fine engraving on a signet ring and a belt buckle.

What is your favorite piece from the Flying Cock collection?

Definitely the Flying Cock belt buckle. I spent weeks carving the cock and am more than satisfied with the result.

If you could pick anyone to sport a piece from the collection, who would it be?

I would choose Kenneth Anger!

 

 

What is the ethos behind Jonathan Johnson?

As a goldsmith I see myself in a tradition of a very old craftsmanship. My claim is to develop and produce everything. So I'm both a designer and an executive. We produce everything exclusively in Hamburg, in my factory with a handpicked team. I only produce with recycled material using green electricity. We source our chains from a small chain factory based in Germany. It is very important to me that the pieces should give joy to the people and that they’re produced fairly. As an artist, I stand for freedom and equality of all people

What are you working on next?

I am currently working on a new collection with Bruce LaBruce which will be released mid-year. Also, there will be a new photo book that I have been working on for some time. It’s called Life after death - 15 different role models, embodied by the same woman, a kind of reincarnation roulette.  And lots of jewelry, be curious.

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