What’s your relationship with Tom's work?
When I first discovered his Kake booklets in a porn shop, they excited me very much. I used them as jerk-off magazines. I am obsessed with big cocks and that’s exactly what Tom offered. Slowly I discovered the artistic value beyond the sexual content— just like many others.
Long before I met you, I loved the portrait of Tom hanging in the stairwell at TOM House, can you tell me about that piece, and how it came to land at TOM House?
In 1991 I worked on a series inspired by Andy Warhol, “10 Gays of the Twentieth Century and Joe Dallesandro.” My idea was to portray gay writers and artists that were especially dear and important to me, each of them on a backdrop of one of their respective masterpieces or related to them, e.g. Pier Paolo Pasolini on “Ragazzi di Vita”; Divine on the screenplays of John Waters; and Tom of Finland on the pages of “Kake” magazines. I bought books and magazines, cut them up and glued them on cardboard to paint on. Bavarian collectors bought Tom’s portrait and I heard they later donated it to TOFF.
I love that story. You have an incredible body of work, how has Tom inspired you?
His freedom to do exactly what he wanted was the biggest inspiration (and continues to be so) to be true to myself, and go ahead and do what I really want.
Tell me how you first meet Durk…
Durk walked into my Berlin studio sometime in 1993 with Isaac Julien, the filmmaker. I instantly connected with Durk and showed him my fantasy drawings of pierced cocks and genital modification, and he said, oh that’s what we all do in L.A.! I was in awe.
Your residency at TOM House was a long time coming. How did you finally arrive?
I had visited in the 90s, and last year Durk called me up and asked, why don’t you come to TOM House for a couple of months for an artist residency? Earlier that year my partner Fox and I had wanted to go to San Francisco but couldn’t find a place at a reasonable rate. I had lived in San Francisco on and off in the 80s. It was always expensive but now it seemed crazy. Anyway, we both thought it was a great chance and so we went.
What was your experience like there?
I felt totally at home! It may sound funny, but in some way, being there reminded me of my time living in a spiritual ashram in San Francisco as a student. It’s a similar kind of old mansion in a residential neighborhood, with the same kind of plumbing and kitchen set up. Instead of the guru’s picture here is Tom’s… (hahaha). It’s a small community of permanent residents and many people floating in and out. Of course TOM House is dedicated to sexual freedom— I got kicked out of the ashram because I had my first boyfriend Paul stay overnight. Yes, I had my coming out as a gay man at an ashram in San Francisco! Besides just feeling good and welcome at TOM House, I was very inspired to work work work! That’s really what Tom’s presence does for me, he was such a worker! I felt totally energized!
What was your Artist-in-Residence project?
I had the idea to paint a large orgy panorama as an homage to Tom and the pictures of L.A. that David Hockney made so iconic: the free sexual life under palm trees in the sunshine. With erotic art all over the house and garden I felt free to do whatever I wanted. I put prints of Tom’s orgy scenes up above my workplace and googled orgy pictures from various decades. I experimented and found painting from negatives much more exciting than from positives. Skin tones change to hues from pale blue to emerald green to black, thus making skin color irrelevant. I like that. My men are shades of blue.
I worked a lot in the garden, which added another element to my panorama painting, the subtropical plants: banana, lemon and orange trees, cacti and the Hollywood sign in the distance. I also threw in a big Joshua tree.
I asked the beautiful belly dancer Allison to model for me, as a nod to Tom and his women, who are only allowed to watch from a distance. I took pictures of her watching in awe from behind a door and put her right behind the banana trees spying on a group of guys fucking. We had so much fun!
You met many artists in LA who are affiliated with the Foundation. Can you talk about how they inspired you to create the latest issue of My Gay Eye?
Well, together with the art collection at TOM House, it was you L.A. artists and writers whom I met at the house who made me want to do this book. I was roommates with the jolly and charming British artist Stuart Sandford with his sexy Latino boys. I would see his sculptures coming in boxes and then lying amidst socks and underwear on his bed. I had never seen 3D prints, but there they were, and he would explain the technical process to me. Stuart introduced me to you, and you gave me your book of short stories. I read them on the long bus trips to the beach and loved them! In one of them you described perfectly what it feels like to be a writer (or artist) in residence at TOM House. Of course you described YOUR experiences, but they were not so different from mine. That was actually one of the starting points for this book.
I didn’t know that! I’m flattered. Can you talk about the community at TOM House?
There is the everyday work of the residents and the many volunteers in the archives and the library. I really liked this aspect of life at the house, it's a changing community of very special and lovely people. There's Marty, a librarian about 60 years old, with her little dog Cleo, who would probably not be expected to be archiving gay pornography. Or her roommate Louie, who meticulously prepared the picture materials and did most of the graphic work for the present volume. There are the daily meals together in the house or garden; the guided tours of the house, where I met staff from Sotheby's, New York; the weekly tea salon hosted by photographer Rick Castro; the many unusual and exciting visitors, and former Artists-in-Residence. Some days I was so busy working I forgot to leave the premises. There there were so many interesting people around anyway.
Sounds mystical! After publishing your own works, what made you want to do an anthology?
I consider this anthology art in its own right. An anthology is a great opportunity to get in touch with a lot of interesting artists and see what they are up to. I grew up to be a community guy; I lived in communes from age 20 on. Being an artist myself I know how to deal with other artists, and I like to organize and collaborate. I also love and collect books.
When did you start My Gay Eye?
I started in 2005 with a journalist. He took care of the written words and I organized the visuals. My Gay Eye is an anthology that has been published once a year by the German publisher Claudia Gehrke, who originally started out as a feminist publishing house in the Black Forest, Germany.
What is significant about this Tom issue?
This special issue is an homage to Tom of Finland. It starts with Tom’s work process: the collages he did with found images from newspapers and magazines and preparatory sketches. I am always curious how fellow artists develop their works. It was important for me to show his process. Durk came up with the idea to feature examples of all the techniques Tom used, from taking his own reference photos, to pen and ink drawings, to the absolutely finished masterworks.
Next is the homage section by other artists and writers. We gave several writers a choice of Tom drawings to choose from to develop their own stories. Then it’s the collection of the Foundation with some of the “all time masters” as we jokingly called them. Then, TOM House and its Artists-in-Residence, art fairs, and other activities. Interspersed are critical evaluations of Tom’s work by artists and writers, an interview with curator Marc Bellenger and in depth text by Durk and Sharp.
The aspect of an international gay artist community has survived to varying degrees from the beginnings to this day and is the base of our publication. Since our anthology My Gay Eye has always emphasized and promoted the character of cooperation. This volume is the logical continuation of our series, albeit with the crystallization point of the exceptional artist personality Tom of Finland.
I think I heard someone say there are 100 artists in this issue. Is that true? How did you select the artists in the book?
Yes it’s true, well over 100 artists! During my residency at TOM House I enjoyed rummaging in the collection at night when everybody was asleep. In the drawers of the library I found a wild mix of artwork, from posters to prints to original drawings, from sweet amateur fantasies to masterpieces. Not to mention the binders in the closet!
There were many pictures I wanted to put in the book. I worked with Durk on the selection. We both got really into it— I think he enjoyed the process at least as much as I did. He is so passionate about the art and has stories about every artist and every single piece in the collection! He told me about the friendships and love affairs between many of the artists, and we both agreed that this would be a main focus of the selection: the connections. Durk and I selected many of the artists and artworks at TOM House. Louie did an amazing job scanning and adjusting everything. Then Durk came to my studio in Berlin and we organized the huge amount of pictures into chapters. Of course we couldn’t take everything. That’s for another bigger volume on the collection.
Do you have favorite pieces?
Many! One body of work that especially fascinates me is that of Link. I don’t know anything about this artist, except that he gave all his drawings to the Foundation and wanted his real name unknown. His “School of Cock” is a fantasy about how to build humongous cocks. It’s totally obsessive, over the top, somewhat naïve, very charming, and made me rock hard. I love the total abandon and freedom of his pictures. I found Link’s drawings in folders during a nightly search and took the central piece to my room as inspiration for my orgy panorama. Maybe today the artist would have also found the freedom to publish them under his real name.
What is your hope for this collection?
That all these works of art get well documented and that TOFF will become a museum with much more additional space to present these treasures to the public. There should also be travelling exhibitions, and a much more comprehensive catalogue.
Any ideas on what the next issue will be?
After 14 issues I would like to move on and give it over to someone else, I think that’s important for an anthology like this, to develop a new style and fresh ideas. My friend Johnny Abbate, a photographer from Naples wants to continue as picture editor. He will need a good text editor to work with him. That doesn’t mean that I will not do more books, but I want to go to another format, conceptually and sizewise