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Friday 12 February 2010

Mitchell's A-Z of Fetish Artists - Leo

Leo Ravenswood is one of the most important bondage artists. Leo was much in demand in the heyday of magazines like Drummer. His importance lies not so much in the quality of his drawings but their subject matter. He covered the more exotic byways of bondage fetish such as pony training, lace up restraints and body bags, head harnesses and suspension.

Leo - Ranch Fun

His captives are forced into restraining sleeves and made to adopt awkward positions which are both painful and humiliating (see Ranch Fun). This picture is not completely convincing at a technical level but it's a great idea! 

This type of bondage derives from corsetry and has long been used in female bondage imagery. Given the era in which Leo came to the fore it's possible he was influenced by that and took it as his lead. His characters are shown with the standard indicators of maleness popular at the time - long hair and bushy moustaches, but they have also a slightly feminine air which becomes more exaggerated as their bondage ritual proceeds.

Leo - Pony Escape

They frequently are made to wear boots with high heels - albeit chunky Cuban ones. (see Pony Escape) Perhaps he liked that duality or perhaps he was simply adapting the glamour art of his day which was exclusively based on women.

Pony Escape comes from Leo's long story - 'The Estate' which is the story of a character who is drawn into a secret organisation which recruits men and keeps them in captivity to serve wealthy clients. The main plotline is a simple love and jealousy triangle, but Leo's exploration of the hierarchy and functioning of the Estate and it's repertoire of unusual punishments is fascinating.

Leo - Roy and Ray

These two supporting characters in the story are unusual for Leo in that they do not sport long hair nor moustaches and for me this is a frustrating glimpse of what might have been! (see Roy and Ray)

Leo - Bedtime Bondage

Leo's pictures are cartoon-like and the anatomy and perspective is patchy. Likewise the level of detail varies but he always pays great attention to the detail of the bondage devices. 

Probably it is the inventiveness of his subject matter which is most impressive and the very personal exploration of his subject - like the Bedtime Bondage picture from 'The Estate'. This simple image is un-sexual in some ways, the characters are even separated by the bed cover! You can read Freudian conflicts into this if you like, but maybe it's trying to express something deeper than pure sex. 'The Estate' storyline is full of yearnings for love and companionship. I think this picture tries to depict what bondage signifies in a real relationship - something the porn factory ignores. 

I could have chosen many, many pictures to illustrate Leo's abilities, a luxury I have rarely enjoyed in this series and that is tribute in itself. Sadly, to modern eyes the appeal of Leo's work is hampered by his choice of masculine stereotypes (which haven't stood the test of time), the flavours of femininity and the lack of visual sensuality in his technical style. This does not diminish his achievement or his status as a leading proponent of exotic bondage.

Read Leo's full story of 'The Estate'

I can't ID a link for this artist but a search of gay art groups should turn up more examples. 
I welcome link info from readers of this blog

For other articles in this series click on the A-Z label below.


Jeryn said...

While I really appreciate your having an entry on Leo Ravenswood, I think you are short-changing his art. You complain about "his choice of masculine stereotypes (which haven't stood the test of time)". Do you regret his use of stereotypes? Lots of fetish artists used and still use stereotypes. That, by himself, is not a fault. Or do you regret the fact that his stereotypes look dated to "modern eyes" (your modern eyes, at least)? It just means that fashion has changed, but it might change again - maybe in 10 years his men won't look so strange to you.
Does the "flavours of femininity" come from his obvious link to the straight fetish artists of the 1950's? If so, I must say that I find it extremely fascinating. I discovered the works of Jim, Eneg, et al in the 1970s and I was certainly influenced by them in my early drawings. They have a very distinct aesthetic quality which I think Leo's work has too - the human body as sculpture, body modification without any actual alteration, the melding together of skin and leather, skin and rubber… It certainly has sensuality, it just isn't the same kind as the more obvious sensuality of Tom of Finland or Etienne.

Mitchell said...

I think you are harder on me than I am on Leo! I think it is clear in the article that I rate his work highly.

I agree that it is OK to use stereotypes, I do it myself all the time! I was around when bushy moustaches were in vogue, but in my opinion they do not 'work' as male icons today, that is not a criticism but a source of regret for me - because it limits the appeal of his work. I don't expect everyone to share this view and yes fashions may change in the future.....fine!

As for the femininity and sensuality issue, I totally respect your viewpoint and agree with quite a lot of it.

Thanks for the contribution!

Anonymous said...

Both comments above hold good thoughts but in my humble opinion his drawings are with out doubt some of the most imaginitive bondage fdrawing around and the fact that most of the posisitions are fiction is what makes my mind work to over drive.

I for one should be VERY greatful if any one can inform me of where to get a copy of "The Estate" as My orgianal copy has been lent to some one who seams to have lost it ??? isnt that always the truth when you do some one a favour.
I would love another copy either in digital form that I can reproduce my self or a hard copy.

Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

His name was Dirk Dykstra. He was from Minneapolis. He was 6'2', dark hair and beard, very handsome, with soulful brown eyes. I met him in 1981, and it was shortly thereafter that he said the guys at Drummer were interested in his art and he decided to move to San Francisco. He was capable of very realistic art, but created his 'style' to be drawn quickly, with the focus on bondage equipment fantasies. He was more interested in that, and the application, than in the actual sex acts.
He said he once visited a fortune teller that his mom knew (she wrote occult romance novels) and she told him that all the 'fascination' with leather would end in 1988. I never saw or heard from him after his move, but I've always wondered if that statement was meant directly for him, in a hint of the coming epidemic. He was a bright, thoughtful, and gentle soul, with an easy laugh...even with a piece of rope in his hands. Think well of him. B

Mitchell said...

I have transferred 'The Estate' exhibition from my Yahoo group to this blog as of today. There's now a link to it at the foot of the article above.

Jadwick said...

If I may, I'd like to add a bit more on Dirk/Leo. He wasn't "from" Minneapolis as such, but he did live there from 1979 to 1981. He made a living as a commercial artist, and was also involved in the pagan community and did pagan-themed art as well. He was also very talented in interior design, although he didn't pursue that professionally. He died from an AIDS related illness in 1993. I still miss him very much. He was a kind and generous man.