To my readers......

I'm playing with the mitchmen blog format to improve the display of landscape pictures and text readability.
If you see a post that's wrecked, please post a comment against it so i can fix it.

Thanks for visiting Mitchell's blog

(Feb 18th 2018)

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Tom of Finland's Beards - 3

(Read this series from part 1)

The small group of more positive bearded roles in 1973 are followed by this fisting scene in 1974 (one of Tom's better known pictures which I mentioned previously in Part 1).  Here Mr Beard is the central character, seemingly securing his full acceptance into Tom's leather scene. His role is made all the more remarkable by the portrayal of all of his sexual partners as black, which marks this out as a picture that's trying to make a point, although for for all it's liberation achievements, the black men in this picture are still playing a supporting role.

If you read my article on Black men in Tom's pictures you will see this picture is part of wider maturing in Tom's outlook. However, I think that this picture has more significance than that,  illustrated by my next example.


This 1981 picture is an eerily similar reworking of the same fisting theme (this time featuring gay stereotypes of a different type).The crate featured in both drawings is a favourite prop of Tom's. It's not uncommon for Tom to rework ideas he likes but the underlying similarity in these two pictures is exceptional. Strikingly, the bearded character plays the exactly the same role, as the willing recipient of some pretty kinky sex (note the sound in the '81 picture). It's hard to dispel the notion that there's some personal experience behind Tom's attachment to this idea.

There's a gap of 7 years between these two pictures. Despite the flurry of beard interest in 1973-74  I have discovered only 2 other pictures featuring beards in this intervening period. Both are portraits, (of an unknown conductor and of the porn stars, Mike Betts and Rick Wolfmeier) and therefore somewhat separate from the pictures reflecting Tom's sexual imaginings. Arguably they are more significant choices for that very reason. It's possible that there's an element of personal acquaintance in it, although the porn star image seems to be based on a photograph.


The next example comes 3 years later in 1984 and although it's a portrait of sorts there's no escaping the sense of admiration from afar, as though we are studying him across a crowded bar. The cigar in his hand is suggestive of a certain powerful type of gay masculinity but you wouldn't expect it to be matched with a hairless body or slender physique. For me it's as if Tom has taken a bearded 'model' who he likes or admires and has dressed him up (very neatly) in the leatherman's paraphernalia to visualise his enhanced 'man-appeal'.

In the following year (1985) this image appeared and although the landscape is of long-standing familiarity, it's protagonists are startlingly different. It's as though Tom has completely re-evaluated his perception of what a bearded man is in these pictures. This one is uncannily real. His beard is neatly trimmed and although he has a hairy torso, it too is neat and natural-looking. In reality, this is probably a portrait, perhaps of two lovers known to Tom*. Despite the belt, there's absolutely no sense of menace here. He's put them in a fantasy setting which is the standard Tom of Finland 'Woodland Stage Set', a place of sexual adventure. Joshua Reynolds placed his subjects in the rolling landscapes they owned, Tom has allowed these two into his own special fantasy world to play. It's a setting that features in a number of important pictures around this time so this is quite a compliment and is another sign that Tom is treating bearded men as people with personalities and not as a stereotype for wickedness, extravagant wealth or straightness.
*since publishing this one of my correspondents has confirmed that this was indeed a commissioned portrait - Mitchell (Oct 2016)

This final sketch is dated 1989 in Tom's last years and it  harks back to his lumberjack days. Although you can think of nostalgic reasons for this it sticks out like a sore thumb in the work of this period. I wonder if it might have been conceived as an off-shoot of the Kake in Canada story (1984). Although this is an action scene drawn from the imagination the bearded character is not a by-stander and you can see how central he is to Tom's intentions, not only by the role he is playing - valiantly taking on a cock that would make lesser mortals quail - but by the fact that he is the most fully-drawn element of the unfinished picture.  He's come a long way from the sneaky thief in Kake 2.


There's another very formal portrait of a couple of leathermen in the same year as this picture featuring a notably mustachioed and bearded top. If you like puzzles you can also just spot a beard amongst the gang of black men banging a Tom Cop over the bonnet of their convertible car in the well known picture from 1987 (two years earlier).


The sporadic appearances of beards in Tom's pictures over the years don't suggest he had any great liking for them, but it does seem as though they had powerful associations for him, quite threatening ones in his 40's. The notion that bearded men had something to hide was not unknown at that time so it doesn't necessarily reflect a personal experience. But although he gradually discards this notion in his later images it's remarkable that bearded characters always take bottom roles (unless you count the hairy bandit in Kake 23). This seems counter intuitive but suggests to me that Tom's 'rehabilitation' of bearded men is primarily based on acquaintance with softer types of Bears, as suggested by the man in image 16 who does have this sort of look. His visits to the US from 1977 onwards may have contributed to the changes evident in this last period.


If you enjoyed this feature on Tom of Finland there are others on this blog,
click on the label below or consult my Index of Tom Articles

No comments: