Artsbitching – Tom Of Finland

Sasha Selavie on the iconic, erotic artist


What’s the ultimate muse for gay artists? Why, hot pumping dicks of course, and preferably, spectacularly erect! Not surprisingly, from Michalangelo onwards, painters of our same-sex persuasion have furiously ejaculated stunning, phallocentric subject matter.

And perhaps inevitably, that imagery has often centred on the semi-criminal gay world; blatant whores flaunting their invariably bulging wares. Okay, in an ideal world, prostitution would be fully legal, but back in acclaimed, gay artist Caravaggio’s era, sodomy – to quote Diamanda Galas – did indeed mean death, especially if sold on demand!

Still, shrewd artists got by, anchoring their painterly geometry squarely on the penis of interest, making sure an entire composition led inquisitive eyes directly to a semi-divine, classically proportioned dick. In that respect alone – depicting sheer, unabashed lust – gay Old Masters were light-years more adventurous than their straight counterparts. And even the slightest glance at Caravaggio’s smirking rent-boys – all jaunty swords on their thick, gripping thighs – communicates an instant message of man-meat takeaways ready to go! Which brings us to the sublime horniness of Tom of Finland, Caravaggio’s indisputable, modern-day heir.

Producing work and drawings easily on an  anatomical par with renaissance screamer Michalangelo, Tom’s art has fuelled gay men’s fantasies for decades. Though he’d been selling drawings before 1957 when he first published work under the name ‘Tom of Finland’, Touko Laaksonen (his real name) didn’t become truly renowned until 1978, when an exhibition of his work in New York provoked a firestorm of interest. It’s not surprising – one of Tom’s seminal images showed a hunk being fisted, blown and kissed, but far more beautifully than the equally outrageous photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe!

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Six years later, the Tom of Finland Foundation was formed, which, if there’s any justice in the world, should be hailed as the gay Guggenheim of America. Am I rating the man’s art too highly? Hardly – in terms of mood, sheer excellence of draughtsmanship and mastery of lighting,
Tom’s work bears comparison with the best. Better still, he made images of limp-wristed, Oscar Wilde clones obsolete overnight. And in an ironic masterstroke, Tom torpedoed previous notions of straight male imagery, making hyper-masculinity
irretrievably gay.

What a shame – not! Post-Tom, no hetereosexual bloke worth the name could drool over big-dicked beefcake; quite rightly, it’d become the sole property of queens worldwide! How’s that for a homosexual coup?

To a basic body shape probably sourced from superhero comics – huge muscles and Greek god faces-Tom obsessively added massive genital bulges and butched the features up. The result? Long-legged, horny-as-fuck leather queens, their moustaches so thick they’d shame Friedrich Nietzsche and Moses, and giving a raunchy, pubic frame to any dick sucked between insatiable lips!

No wonder that iconic Tom of Finland template became an irresistible, cultural meme, a sartorial pandemic that became the quintessential gay dress-code. Yes, from the late 70s to arguably the mid-80s, the Freddie Mercury clones ruled supreme, and you’d find them most thickly clustered in their identikit glory at London’s now tragically vanished Coleherne.

Never heard of it? Once, it was London’s most renowned leather queen bar, now replaced by a bland gastropub occupying the same premises. But visit the Coleherne any night, and you’d walk into a Tom of Finland wannabees drawing, the swarming leather queens doing their best to match Tom’s hunks!

Can you blame them? Most Tom drawings epitomise the master/slave relationship of John Preston’s landmark novel Mr.Benson, where a guy who thinks he’s a top learns the pleasures of submission to the real thing. The novel conjures verbal pictures of classic Tom, an impossibly handsome, leather-clad master petting his hunky slave with the casual, assured control of a trainer rewarding a puppy.

Still, why read when you can drool? Tom, always, draws the hot flick of a tongue on a dick so vividly you can come just by looking! Say hello to a world of hunky, off-duty cops George Michael should’ve met, and say yes, yes, yes to Tom!

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