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Message updated 6th Jan 2022

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The Art of Ivan Bubentcov


Ivan Bubentcov is a Russian artist whose work caught my eye because of the stylistic likeness to the work of Tom of Finland. For example in this image you can see it in the faces/torso, the quirky poses, cheeky humour and simple background with winding path and trees. In fact this artist has a distinctive technique (evident in the foreground engine detail) which is retro in feel but quite different to ToF. However Bubentcov's reinvention of Kake-like, playful, highly masculine men is a relatively unusual and profound way to acknowledge the Finnish Master in the modern era.

These images come from a group of Tractor Driver pictures. Bubentcov's use of Farm worker imagery seems to echo Tom's fascination with Lumberjacks rather neatly, but if you look at the styling of this image you can see it's much influenced by 1930's design (e.g. the clouds) and Soviet 'Heroic Worker' art in the subject matter (albeit used subversively). Obviously there are less welcome comparisons between gay oppression in Russia now and in Tom's era which no doubt drives the use of sexual innuendo, but I don't think Tom was ever as obviously oblique as this.

Whilst this sauna scene might suggest more Tom connections it's really the closeness of Scandinavian and Russian culture that's responsible here and you'd never confuse this with a Tom picture. He's even emulated a steamy atmosphere. The faces here are recognisably Russian, which is to be applauded. The use of nettles for stimulating the skin is part of the sauna treatment but once again there's an interesting use of heavy innuendo, linking it to the younger man's bottom.

This sauna is depicted in more comic style and gets quite close to being explicit. The man in the foreground is delightfully drawn, long-legged and craggily handsome. He's not quite succeeding in covering his assets, but you have to look close, click to enlarge if required.

The two men inside the hut, ostensibly getting in some nettle thrashing practice, are obviously simulating a sexual position and the one on the bench seems to be signalling a preference with his dangling hand. But there's a curious twist to both bodies which shows balls resting on buttock if you look closely.

As hidden eroticism goes, this is pretty challenging. 

This image also flouts the existing order with man touching man's bottom in public and also in front of a (nosey) woman who's not outraged it seems but dismayed or even frightened. (Cue more Tom comparisons). I'm not quite sure what to make of the phallic cactus on her windowsill (balls and all, note). Perhaps it's a comment on female perceptions of men and their equipment, .

Presumably these are workmen but it might equally be an elopement scene with the ladder. I've seen a similar image based on the Rapunzel story, except that the rescuing hero is climbing past the window of the long haired maiden to reach the long haired man on the floor above. The political symbolism of ladders as escape devices needs no explanation. (Tom had his fences of course symbolising the opposite, entrapment and secrecy).


Bubentcov has a polished, more academic style as well. 
The faces he draws are infused with the same sense of masculinity and relaxed playfulness.

In the context of his Russian background, this image is a remarkable affirmation of homosexuality as a normal form of relationship and something beautiful, not just a method of sexual release. The combination of highly masculine stubble with delicate, almost feminine eyelashes and eyebrows goes further, making a provocative challenge to gender stereotyping. 
The style here is remarkably similar to that of RW Richards (below).

RW Richards - Amorous Cowboys
Artists often thrive in difficult circumstances, and it's good to see Bubentcov isn't surrendering to his.
I hope we will see much more art from this exciting new arrival on the scene.

For more visit the Bubentcov spread in 'Advocate'

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