Original drawing, 1978
The art of Etienne: Court Jester of Erotica
The erotic artist who used the names Etienne and Stephen was born in Chicago on July 1st, 1933. I originally crossed paths with Dom in New York City in 1976, meeting him at Target Studios where we experienced an instantaneous attraction of brotherhood towards each otherwhich lasted until his passing of AIDS some fifteen years later. Shortly after that first meeting, I showed Etienne a little image signed ‘Tom’ that I snuck off the wall of a leather bar, announcing a motorcycle club night (which incidentally was pirated, it was my first official contact with an unauthorized use of a Tom drawing) . “So who is this artist Tom?” I asked. Dom immediately responded, “Oh, that’s Tom of Finland. We write each other sometimes, maybe you want his address ?” And so Tom and I connected via our good friend Etienne, who is indelibly tied to Tom and me, and thereby the eventual creation of the Tom of Finland Foundation.
Over the next couple of years, my friendship with both artists developed, and eventually I was able to arrange a joint exhibition of their works at a new underground gallery in New York City’s Greenwich Village, called Stompers, which would end up being the location where Tom and Etienne would enjoy the social introductions of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol who were in attendance at their opening.
For several years, I worked gratis on the careers of both artists while still holding down a full time job, until I realized that working only in my spare time I was not able to do them both justice (not to mention myself). Observing how Tom appeared to have less business savvy than Dom, and with Target Studios already publishing Etienne’s works, I chose to focus on Tom exclusively. Dom completely understood and responded in the gracious gentleman’s fashion which was so much his style, wishing me the best for both our careers.
Dom was still in high school when his first erotic works were published and he wanted a pseudonym with real flair, so he signed them with the French version of his middle name Stephen – – Etienne. He gradually refined a distinction in artistic names based on the medium he was working in. He kept Dom for his more ambitious oils, acrylics and pencil works and used Stephen for his cartoon-style pen & ink works.
Dom painted amazing 8 to 10 foot giants of oil and acrylic works, “giving homage mythical men of might and brawn. Sometimes these large works show strong relationships to classical paintings of the past although he often interchanged the Greek and Roman gods with his leather-clad tough boys and waterfront thugs.
Tom was a real fan of Etienne’s work and vice versa. Both Tom and I were continually amazed at the originality of Etienne’s humor. I’m sure that Etienne will go own in homoerotic history as being the quintessential humorist. His typical formats have one or more characters as the brunt of the joke, many times under severe physical torment, all for the sexual gratification of another of his ruffians. His relaxed mastery of figurative cartoon illustration, along with a superb ability for gutter dialogue, produced the kind of stories that we were always wishing for when reading Flash Gordon and Spider Man, but never got until Etienne/Stephen entered our lives.
Dom’s storybooks were really where he excelled. Under the name of Stephen, his vivid imagination would create the finest looking men, with an overabundance of testosterone and male pheromones, and then send them into the most bizarre situations where they were only released from the grasp of death or severe sexual punishment by agreeing to perform some perverse, oftentimes hysterically humorous, sexual scenario. His men were highly inclined to be members of the military, or ranch hands, or some other kind of tough guy. Oh yeh, he always had a hard-on for the bad boys from the wrong side of the tracks. I think that in his art Dom became an alter-ego for our less cautious selves; releasing through his fantasies the side of ourselves that has a fascination with danger, inviting it, romancing it, fulfilling it, all within the safety of our Imaginations.
On his death bed, Dom wanted all his fans to be aware that he in no way wanted them to actualize many of the situations that he created in his drawings and he emphasized that with fantasy anything is possible and nothing has consequences; for it’s just make believe. As did Tom of Finland, Etienne felt very concerned that his fantasy stories and single works might be misinterpreted over time. As any comic strip illustrator would do, he selected subject matter to create mystery and intrigue. Whether fulfilling a commission request, or just for the pure sake of a lark, he often created humorous romps that crossed into no man’s land, sometimes with brutal situations. It’s important for all of us to realize that within the realm of fantasy and art there are no limits, and that is the fun of it, yet in the real world such unsafe “no-limits” scenarios are not acceptable.
This man, Dom Orejudos, while sometimes playing the part of the jester, had all the qualities of a prince. Truly respectful, considerate, always ready to care for the bird with the broken wing, to sacrifice himself in being the brunt of his own joke to create levity .I truly hope through this series of books you will all come to know this quiet giant and trailblazer of homoerotic art.
Welcome to the amazing world of Etienne and Stephen.
–Durk Dehner, 1999