Durk Dehner was born John Jonathan Jr. It wasn’t until many years later, in Los Angeles, where he was able to fully inhabit his self-given name, Durk Dehner: a moniker merging the writing on the side of a pair of secretly cherished sunglasses once found on the dashboard of a 1954 Ford convertible (D-U-R-K); and a leather boot company out of Omaha, Nebraska (Dehner). Dehner is the beating heart behind TOM House and co-founder at the helm of Tom of Finland Foundation, first brought to life in 1984. The nonprofit was established by Dehner and his one-time partner the erotic artist Tom of Finland who had, by that point, established worldwide recognition as the master of homoerotic art. The Foundation’s original purpose was to preserve his vast catalog of work but has since expanded to act as overarching queer art advocates, educating the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.
TOM House, a beacon beaming from the hills of Echo Park, serves as homebase for the foundation. It’s where the magic happens, housing an expansive collection of homoerotic artworks, hosting gatherings and artists for residencies. Its influence, both past and present, is such that in 2016 the house was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles. In Dehner’s words, “It is a mecca that celebrates the beauty of our homosexual desires. The task at hand is to nourish it, to make sure it sustains itself, because it sustains our identity.”
In advance of TOM’s Weekend — a celebration of Pride featuring all things Tom of Finland in Palm Springs — Director Durk Dehner took some time to hand-select five of his favorite pieces residing at TOM House.
All photos by Michelle Shiers.
Durk Legacy, 2022
Oil on canvas
A present day portrait of Durk Dehner. The work presents Durk today with a depiction of earlier visual documentations by artists Bruce Weber; Robert Pruzan; Tom of Finland (a portrait given to Durk in 1980 by the artist in celebration of Durk’s birthday); Bruce Rapp, reflecting on the artist’s premonition that Durk would be a lone survivor amongst their friends; a painting commissioned by Durk by Jim Leff; and an illustration used as a poster by Etienne.
Tom’s Man (from “Golden Nudes” series), 2003
Gold leaf, oil and silkscreen on canvas
The background and the composition of the series is based on notable figures from history including Michelangelo, Robert Mapplethorpe and Wilhelm Von Gloeden. I think it is a great re-creation of one of Tom’s Men.
Men Working Gently, 2022
This photo captures Durk Dehner posing for this article with Rinaldo Hopf painting in the background. Hopf is creating works with acrylic on wood to be part of a mural on the exterior ground-floor wall of TOM House. This is the continuation of a project started in 2020 just prior to COVID-19 and is titled Pleasure Park.
No Swimming, 1990
Color pencils on paper
Part of the artist’s collection donated to the Foundation by his life partner, Steve Worley. Tank was an expert in the use of color pencil and traveled the Gay rodeo circuit selling his work.
A Kensington Cross, 1987
Watercolor on paper
Donated to the Foundation by Scott O’Hara.
Scott O’Hara was a performer, poet, publisher and patron of the arts. He was the first Lifetime Member of Tom of Finland Foundation and left his collection of over five hundred works of art to the Foundation’s permanent collection. O’Hara saw the importance of collecting and documenting the cultural heritage of the Queer community. We are proud to be the official guardians of the Philip Core Collection and Archives, which was made possible by Core’s family. Core’s importance in contemporary art cannot be underestimated. The Foundation plans to work with institutions in the UK in mounting a retrospective on the work and life of this forward-thinking Queer activist.
May I take these final few words to invite you to engage in developing the life avocation of collecting art that relates to your community and identity. It is full of richness and developing relationships with artists, in itself, is extremely rewarding. Please check our website tomoffinland.org, and visit our YouTube: TomofFinlandsmen.
Australian artist Shaun Daniel Allen (Shal) puts his hands in the Earth.