At first sight Uli of Berlin's work might be mistaken for Tom of Finland's. He populates his pictures with the same cops and leather men and also copies some of Tom's distinctive poster styles and even actual imagery as in the example above (see one of Tom's boot worship images here and notice for example the depiction of the leather boot folds). Despite paying this homage to Tom, however, Uli's drawing style is actually quite different, most obviously in the faces but also the detailing of the body which is less crisply defined than Tom's men.
There's an even more significant difference which is also to be seen in this seemingly innocuous boot worship scene. One of Uli's leather men has his foot raised as though about to stamp on the sub. The overall impression given by Tom's work is of a man enjoying being submissive but Uli's sub is (literally) down-trodden and licking boots the least onerous of his duties. It's altogether more serious and intense.
That intensity is apparent in this image too where the domination takes an unusually invasive form but seems to be actually driving the sexual exchange. Although we are being kept at a distance, we are aware of an earthy intimacy here, a sharing of deeply significant desires that goes beyond mere jerking off. This is quite different to Tom's world where characters sometimes seem to be detached spectators even while they are participating (see example) and only get close in order to effect penetration.
The majority of Uli's work takes the form of simple and uncluttered imagery, one man tormenting another, usually with no background at all although there may be a chair or box (as in the previous example) for the sub to perch on.
What we see here tells us nothing about the character of these men, where they are or how they came to be together. There does seem to be an age difference and the older one has assumed a leather-man persona, but it has an unusually militaristic flavour making him seem more serious, more dangerous, his limits unknown. It's not even clear that his motive is sexual.
The other man is totally naked, bound and gagged, he's ended up completely helpless and isolated. There is nothing even to suggest that he is part of a leather fraternity with conventions that might confer a degree of protection. In fact he might have been plucked off the street. Although he is excited by his rough treatment we sense that he's become apprehensive, trying to wriggle away from that wicked riding crop. His dominator coolly holds him in position with his foot - and carries on.
At one time 'leather' was exclusive, secret, the unknown, inextricably linked with dangerous sex and unpredictability. Decades of commercially driven fetish clubs (and Tom of Finland fantasies to be fair!) have reduced it's image to near-teddy bear status. In pictures like this, Uli gives a glimpse of the darker world of old
That hint of pent-up violence finds full expression in works like the one above, which though shocking is profoundly well observed and unashamedly erotic in intent. Elsewhere, Uli shows kicking, stamping, punching and throttling sometimes drawing blood (below). The violence is unmitigated by any suggestion of playfulness and not simply extreme but very direct and personal in nature, employing fists, which seems much more shocking than that administered from a distance using a whip or a paddle. If S&M is a genuine form of love-making, Uli tests that theory to the limit. These are areas Tom never ventured into (at least not in his published works) and images like this might discomfort the most ardent fetish fan.
Uli has a good eye for depth which is evident both in this picture and the last one. It lifts his best images beyond Tom's work, even if his figure drawing is less sensuous and precise than that master. The juxtapositions and acute perspective reinforce the sense of domination, envelopment and being trapped. But at the same time he creates a connection between the participants, even though there is no physical contact between them, by using eye lines. This is subtly supplemented by the careful positioning of bulging crotch and ballooning leather trouser, which stirs the lust in the best traditions of 'hidden eroticism' (see label below). At this point I wonder whether men sitting on chairs have a special erotic significance for Uli which I cannot see.
As we saw above, in some of Uli's imagery the borrowed 'Tom's Cop' character transforms into (or cynics might say, reverts to being) a Nazi-style trooper. You can't fault the effectiveness of the composition above at an artistic level but it's hard to ignore the antecedents and associations with a world that is neither pleasant or praiseworthy. In fact the styling seems to deliberately reference the art and propaganda of that era.
This image is quite different in content and technique and unusual in that it features a detailed background. I prefer this style and particularly the shorts, but the depiction of a sleazy urinal only serves to underline the fact that most of Uli's work does not seem sleazy at all ......
Usually captors and captives alike are immaculately dressed in leather, rubber or conventional clothing whose tightness is the only concession to lust. (I'm not a fan of masks but this smooth, clinging example is fascinating and hugely symbolic of domination). Uli's naked bodies are trim, clean and unblemished by tattoos and they are set against a background which is clinically white with no evidence of corrections or smut from the drawing process. Perhaps it's unfortunate but the word 'purity' springs to mind. On the face of it, this seems to be completely at odds with the intense sexuality and (necessarily messy) sadism he portrays.
I can't explain this paradox, but at the end of the day Uli has produced some work which is truly original despite the superficial proliferation of Tom-like clones. It's nature is sometimes disturbing measured by modern day yardsticks, but that's arguably an artistic achievement, perhaps one that is more significant to us than animals in formaldehyde.
I can't find a site or biography for Uli and would welcome information on him from readers. Selections of his work are posted at Sarge'sLocker and MeninTallLeatherBoots
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