[Commentary by Madeira Desouza] Two Spanish men, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, had a profound influence upon me as international artists dating back to the time when I was a boy. As an adult I became interested in the work of underground artists such as Dom “Etienne” Orejudos and Tom of Finland. The 3D digital male images that I create today have a direct link back to established traditions of surreal art and underground art that appeal to those who enjoy viewing gay male images.
Gay Surreal or Underground Art
GAY: Pertaining to males who are homosexual.
SURREAL: Exhibiting attributes of dream-like or nightmarish experiences that can result in a wide range of emotional responses in the mind of the viewer.
UNDERGROUND: Taboo works or creations that are for other reasons outside the mainstream.
ART: Skills and techniques put to the craft of creating digital or physical works that are usually produced with the intention of being viewed, collected, studied and discussed by the viewers.
These images in this next section are presented considered as fair use because they are used solely for criticism, comment, teaching, scholarship, and research. All image copyrights are held by the originating artists or their estates.
I have recommendations for you to search for: Dom “Etienne” Orejudos was an American artist who drew masculine men in highly controversial BDSM poses and situations during the 1970s and 1980s, for example. My creation of digital imagery using 3D tools was also influenced by Touko Laaksonen (better known to the English-speaking world as Tom of Finland) whose gay art was first were published in the United States in the late 1950s.
These two men led the way in the production of art with an imaginary, surreal, exaggerated focus upon the male body, masculinity, and homosexual male sexuality. Other content creators like me who attempt similar surreal or underground works owe a debt to them both and we must respect the pioneering for which they were uniquely responsible.
Dom “Etienne” Orejudos
There are some gay men who never care to look at art that is intended for a gay male audience. I had been one of them. Then, one day I accidentally saw the works of Etienne while browsing online and I was blown away!
I immediately wished that I had taken the time to study gay art because I realized I had missed out on a terrific experience. Although Etienne worked primarily in black and white line drawings, to me, he seemed almost magical for the ways in which he knew exactly how to create surreal, exaggerated men who are so instantly appealing. Is it the shapes of the bodies that the Etienne men have? Is it their expressive faces? Is it the dramatic and emotional situations in which he places his men? It is all of these things and more.
To be honest, there is also a troubling violence and violation in many of the works of Etienne. No question about that. Violence and sex have some linkage that many people probably would rather deny and never consider. But, the linkage is there to be found. Without it, Etienne could not have drawn the men and the situations that he drew. His efforts would have been disregarded had there been no connection whatsoever violence and sex.
This is a challenging and controversial matter which inevitably poses many tough questions about how and why sexualized violence can become an element of an gay male artist’s expression. Etienne does not deserve credit or blame as the originator of these kinds of often disturbing visual depictions in gay surreal art. I think that he is notable because he bravely chose to create gay surreal art that some consider to be disturbing.
Tom of Finland
Immediately after I learned of Etienne, I was thrilled to find the works of Tom of Finland. He is perhaps the most famous artists of the 20th century for gay men. His prolific BDSM themed creations, which were born of post-World War II European sensibilities, demonstrate a most definite respect for (and awe of) highly masculine males. Tom of Finland also does not shy away from male-on-male brutality in the context of sexual conquests.
Tom of Finland is often remembered for his vividly depictions of the homoerotic aspects of Nazi Germany during the 1940s, especially uniformed men with intense masculinity. He is also one of the most prominent artists to explore the gay male’s lust for masculine cowboys in sexual situations involving danger.
The heterosexual majority certainly may choose to shun surreal depictions of male instincts and behaviors towards other males such as sexualized violence. Yet, these were brought unashamedly to the public in print media during the 20th century by Etienne and Tom of Finland.
What mainstream society chooses to avoid, however, should hold little persuasive value to us gay men, per se. We gay men have always known how to be honest about what we like and we are at our best when we go after what we like passionately. I recommend that we gay men should take time to learn about artists like Etienne and Tom of Finland in their own context, but especially because their surreal masculine male art survived them.
Greek and Roman Influences
Depending on the breadth and quality of your formal education, you may have been introduced to the crucial role that culture and society play in the development of artistic sensibilities and works of art. Much of what we embrace today in Western society regarding artistic expression descended to us courtesy of Greece and Rome from thousands of years ago.
One can easily find artifacts online and in museums from both of those classic civilizations that depict male-on-male sexual behaviors and violence among men. Although the word homosexual was not coined until the late 1800s, thousands of years earlier (with or without any name for it) the ancient Greeks and Romans accepted that human nature included men who had sex with men. That men did violence to other men was also well known and accepted as a basic fact of life in those long ago times.
Today, it is tempting for us to think that human nature and behavior has changed significantly over time, especially due to advances in technology to make our lives more civilized. But, when it comes to sex and violence, it probably would be wise to ponder whether human nature has really changed all that much over hundreds of centuries.
After learning to appreciate the works of Etienne and Tom of Finland, I found the artistic works of two gay male artists from Japan.
First, I became aware of Sadao Hasegawa, who created unforgettable and surreal images that mix vivid aesthetic beauty in males with shockingly horrible, violent fates. Hasegawa’s work pays homage to the well-known Japanese artistic style favoring bright color and intensive attention to detail.
Then, I came upon the works of Gengoroh Tagame, who is still producing art today for gay men that is shared over the internet and in print media.
In Asia, the culture out of which gay art grew differs substantially from both the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome and the cultures of Europe and the Americas. Somehow, both Hasegawa and Tagame broke free from the repression of a deeply conservative Japanese culture and strict legal traditions to produce stunning art work that cries out to be observed by gay males. In the works of both Japanese artists, males consistently are depicted as icons of youth, high masculinity, and attractive good looks.
Hasegawa’s works feature disturbing violence in their surrealistic depictions of male sexual arousal preceding or during torture as a prelude to the victim’s certain death. Similarly, Tagame’s surreal art depicts harsh sexualized torture and brutality such as gang rape of men by men in military and/or prison settings, and often include hangings, castrations and impaling. It is easy for the uninitiated viewer to become overwhelmed by the intensity of the violence in the works of Hasegawa and Tagame.
Tagame stands as the strongest influence upon me as an artist and my visual works in indelible ways. I got to meet Tagame at an artists convention at San Francisco College of the Arts where I took this photograph of him discussing how some of his works are for adult viewers only.
At the moment I got to speak to him, eye-to-eye, I was overcome with joyful emotion. I was almost unable to speak. In all the time that I’ve been creating visual works for gay men, I never could have even dared to imagine meeting Tagame in person like I did.
Back in the U.S.A.
Here at home in the United States of America, as a gay male artist living in the 21st century, I have found five artists particularly influential. First, I want to mention Douglas Simonson, who produces typically near-photorealistic-looking art which is nonetheless surreal in tone showing young, highly masculine, good-looking men in tropical environs such as beaches and jungles. Simonson’s art is irresistible and habit-forming, especially because of his generous use of spectacular colors that showcase his unmistakable skills and talents in depicting the male form. His works also are tame and civilized compared to all the other artists I will mention next.
The Hun is the name chosen by the late American artist Bill Schmeling of Oregon. His work consisted mainly of line drawings in old school comic book style done in stark black, white, and grey tones.
The most evident trait of the art of The Hun is the surreal and greatly exaggerated masculinity–particularly the characteristic overly large sex organs.
Next, one will be unable to escape the intense physical brutality of the sexual activities depicted by The Hun’s surreal art, which often shows powerful and muscular men taking full physical and sexual advantage of lesser men who are vulnerable, if not helpless.
3D Digital Art in Digital Storytelling
I was also influenced by a Texan who called himself Greasetank. He lived from 1958 to 2008 and worked in the realm of 3D surrealistic art in digital storytelling. I was influenced to use the same or similar software to produce 3D art as did Greasetank.
Greasetank, like The Hun, depicts greatly exaggerated and/or surrealistic masculinity, most notably lengthy cocks. However, Greasetank’s males do not seem to be intended by the artist to be necessarily attractive or appealing to the viewer.
Greasetank consistently depicts repugnant punk male behaviors, including hate crimes committed using automatic weapons. The sexualized torture depicted by Greasetank is but a prelude to an inevitable and horrific homicide.
Similarly to Tom of Finland, Greasetank also embraced masculine imagery and homoerotica from the days of Hitler and Germany to build many of his art works upon what we today would call Neo-Nazi themes.
Two other influential artist who have used the same or similar software as I do to produce 3D digital images for digital storytelling are Ulf from the United States and Bondageskin from Germany.
Ulf’s work aims for highly detailed photorealism, yet emphasizes hypermasculine males with very exaggerated anatomy that happens only in fantasy and surrealism. Significantly, many of Ulf’s males are depicted as sexual objects and victims of authority at the hands of other min in power such as within military or paramilitary situations.
Another artist who worked in the 3D digital realm used the pen name of Bondageskin. His work deliberately depicted surrealistic and improbably violent military-type executions in digital storytelling in which a doomed man sports an impressive erection and experienced an unwanted orgasm before death.
Anyone can search online and very easily find gay surreal art and gay underground art. There is so much you can discover and learn from if you only search online and take a look at what you find there.
I want you NOT to consider my discussion here, and the examples of the artists’ works, as comprehensive. I have succeeded only in scratching the surface and certainly I urge you to go online and explore this unique subject matter further.
Discover more about these artists and their work: Links
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