Durk Dehner & the Tom of Finland Foundation

"Tom is not owned by gays, he's owned by the world."

Interview by Michael Bullock 
Portrait & Photos by Cali Dewitt

One of the best things about the foundation is the supporting materials, not just the drawings themselves.
Yes. Recently, we realized that we needed to pay better attention to Tom’s photographs. It was students from Cal Arts that slapped us across the face and made us realize they were also important. Tom photographed his models, developed his own film and made his own prints. Then he would cut his prints up and put them into reference binders, which were a mixture of his photographs, other guys' photographs, and cutouts from magazines and everything. We realized that we needed to start showing them. So now we're producing exhibition prints of Tom's that are remarkable and he stands as a photographer.
I loved the collages at the MOCA Show. They were all of faces and it showed how focused he was on getting the right attitude through his men’s facial expressions, the full range, joy, pleasure, mischief, bravado and as you said embarrassment.
Those collages that he used for reference are also being noted. He also did doodles, little silly doodles. He would take magazine cutouts, and would play with them- accentuate the right features to turn them into Tom of Finland men. All of this is now finally being looked at. He'll always be known for his pencil work, his graphics but those materials are also important.
When did you first realize his preliminary sketches were of value?
In 1984 he brought 1500 rough sketches from Finland to store at the foundation. He never thought they were worthwhile outside of his archives. But I went “oh my god, these are amazing”. So immediately, I sent copies of them to our gallery in New York.

Which was Feature gallery.
Yes, Hudson is an amazing man, and did so much for Tom. Hudson exhibited Tom along with artist that he inspired like GB Jones. She’s a female artist that recreated Tom of Finaland’s scenarios with lesbians. He also exhibited Martin of Holland, who made drawings of scat play. All of his men were covered in shit because shit is part of the gay tribal culture. It may not be manifested very much now but it was big then. He exhibited all of them in his gallery in Soho and he never put up an explanation or a sign. This fucking sign shit. Trying to prevent someone from being offended. Fuck off, you know?
Did Tom ever get discouraged?
So much. I don't think there's any artist that has been ripped off as many times as him; it continued after he was dead. We still have to defend his copyrights. You have to fight for itand not let other people take what is yours. Tom got burned allot. I saw him give up several times. It lasted about 48 hours, and he had to start drawing again. When someone is passionate, they get pissed off and they never give up. Not every artist is like that. But he was.
Any closing thoughts?
Well…Tom is not owned by gays, he's owned by the world. I mean,his proprietary roots are with us, but we're absolutely willing to share him for everyone to benefit. In 2006 we had an exhibition in Paris at Gallery Richard of a hundred works. It was cold, December, and this elegant woman walked in wearing a red overcoat. She just stood in the middle of the gallery and panned the room,looking at the art with this radiant smile. I went up to her and asked her what she was thinking.She said "I am standing at the bastion of freedom. Here lies the works of a man who never compromised what was in his heart. He represents freedom for all of us." And I think that's the way it is.

From Sex Magazine #6 Winter 2014
Labelled Life