Most of you will have seen some of the work of the artist 'Valentine'. You almost certainly will have come across his historical reference books 'Beefcake' and 'The Life and Times of Tom of Finland'. Despite this he remains strangely unknown, his art un-discussed and seemingly 'under-appreciated' although it certainly has some very special qualities.
This cowboy image from the Drummer era is probably one of his most widely recognisable pictures. It's a terrible reproduction but still infused with sexuality and fetish and you get an immediate sense of artistic ambition. The cowboy (a notably mature man) is actually holding up his captive's right leg thereby drawing the two of them together visually, physically and erotically. The washed out scan is only partly responsible for this not being immediately obvious, the shaping of the captive's ass also misleads the eye.
His toes wriggle suggestively in the vicinity of the cowboy's peeping ass cheeks but somehow these two erotic elements which would normally be arousing, seem to be almost 'un-activated'. They don't seem to contribute to the thrust of the picture - which is of an impending thrust of course! There's a strange mixture of iconography too with a jumble of cowboy hats, antique naval pulleys and modern work boots (which are rather nicely detailed). All in all this image is quite representative of Valentine's interests.
You can sense the awkwardness and apprehension of this young man entering into a strange new world of adult, sexual domination but his excitement at the prospect is equally apparent. There's a strange, traditional formality about this ritual, he's naked and collared but his older mentors still drape him with a sheet to collect the trimmings from his haircut.
There's tenderness and concern in their treatment and they clearly want him to look his best for whatever they have planned for him. As cross-generational images go this is remarkably sensitive, compare it with Axel's approach in 'Dogboy' which has quite different overtones of domination and 'pet-ship' and of course Fellows who usually takes an even less caring slant.
There's an element of photo-realism about this picture that is very attractive and reminiscent of the style of Lord Iron and in fact both artists regularly featured in Handjobs Magazine (which is now defunct).
This more conventional scenario rendered in the same style treads the same path as many a porn shoot, a mildly fetishistic spanking being an adjunct and catalyst to raunchy sex and domination rather than humiliation by authority. Whilst there's a cross-generational flavour to this piece the characterisations have more to do with conceptions of masculinity than age. The rough, hairy, tough guy is the very embodiment of conventional masculinity, the fantasy 'catch' of many a young man taking his first groping, steps into adulthood and needing to be desired.
This image is from the series 'Shanghaied' (1996). It shows two naked butt-buddies who have just been kidnapped by a press-gang. They are being tied together for simultaneous transfer to the Royal Navy ship. Valentine suggests a moment of romantic 'connection' between the younger captive and the sailor tasked with binding them together. This little cameo recreates every young man's fantasy (surely!) of being and seduced by a kind, handsome, clean but worldly sailor. Valentine's depiction of the naval rating is beautifully observed and conveys the same gentleness and concern we observed in picture 2. There's absolutely no sense that this bondage is connected with pain or punishment, it's more like the packaging and protection of a precious gift.
Valentine's technical style is quite adventurous here, combining a romantic, stylised setting sun with just a hint of sail and yardarm to set the scene in a way not unlike modern theatrical staging. It contributes a touch of class to an image that is insightful and sensitive, but nevertheless the eroticism is absolutely electric, a notable achievement.
But there's another thread to the narrative of this picture - the hairy shipmate who ends up helplessly playing gooseberry while his lover is seduced in front of him. There is an array of visual signals suggesting he is being pushed out, most obviously the sailor's fist seemingly knocking his head away. There's a further distancing effect created by moving him to one side to show more of his hairy, bound body. The technique of 'cutting off' legs was widely used at one time for artistic effect and style. It simplifies and focuses the image and can be used to exaggerate the bulk of thighs and upper arms for erotic purposes. Here, however, Valentine has cut off the two captive's legs in different places creating a false perspective which visually moves them further apart. Cover up the lower part of the picture and you'll see they suddenly seem much closer together.
This separation effect fits the psychology of the scenario but does not quite gel with the idea of tying the two men together in the first place. Mick's hairy body contributes significantly to the sexual 'temperature' of the piece but the erotic potential of a three-way scene goes largely unfulfilled, in fact it's actually not that obvious at first that the two lovers are tied together. One wonders if this picture has evolved in the making and ended up in a different place to the original destination. If so the diversion has still been worthwhile, but like the cowboy image above there's a nagging lack of cohesion.
This is from a different, Pirate Abduction story but it shows the same powerful sense of drama and simmering sexuality. These men climbing aboard their target vessel look rough and scary but excitingly masculine at the same time. The character leading them on the right is something of a 'tour de force' in the portrayal of eroticism through partial-clothing. His elegant nudity is absurd yet irresistibly alluring and the balletic pose is another sign of Valentine's familiarity with the cultivated Arts. The impish, third pirate pushing between the bollards is also imagery borrowed from classical theatre, it's used in crowd scenes (like Falstaff tormented by the fairies in Mid-Summer Night's Dream or the Baron's adultery exposed and ridiculed in Rosencavalier). However, Valentine doffs his hat to the more down-to-earth traditions of hidden homo-eroticism if you note where the point of the leader's sword is heading.
At the end of the day, erotic art is all about sex and Valentine is no slouch in that department. This image positively oozes with arousal and lust as 'hairy Mick', who we saw cast as wallflower in image 4, becomes every man's desire. The chains and arm-lock on him provide just a suggestion of fetishistic compulsion on the part of his most eager admirer who is edging up behind. I'm not normally excited by men in historical costume but the thick hairy legs of this character on the right, disappearing into his chunky boots make me waver in that view (although thinking about it waver is probably not the right word for the effect they induce!). There's some interesting hand work in this picture, try working out whose goes where.
If I have cast aspersions on the coherence of some of Valentine's work, this final example certainly doesn't seem have that flaw. The yin-yang composition is impeccably balanced with a distinctive frame breaking detail more typical of 80's art.
The image makes a powerful argument for the innocence of inter-generational friendship. The man-made chains of oppression are recast as the unbreakable bonds of love. The autumnal, fallen oak leaves and acorns (and other seeds) scattered around the fugitive lovers on the forest floor are poetically suggestive of strength derived from the natural order of beginnings and endings. Here we have age and youth, inseparably related in the cycle of life. However, while this botanical analogy is consistent with the view that our sexuality is innate and preordained in some way, it doesn't really encompass love, sexual relationships or even mentoring which are the preserve of animals able to make choices.
Valentine produces great erotic art which is raunchy and full of originality and intelligent detail. If I have been unkind in pointing out (what I see as) flaws it's not because I lack in admiration for his work, far from it. Valentine is a marvellous artist who deserves to be much better known and appreciated. In some ways his work reminds me of Etienne-Stephen's art. The feet and slightly awkward depiction of the arm-lock in image 6 for example could easily have flowed from that man's pen. Likewise the artsy, balletic poses and the interest in historical and costume settings. Etienne too seems unjustly neglected these days.