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Friday 31 October 2014

A-Z of Fetish Artists - Tom of Finland - 8

Part 8 Tom's Thieves
Tom of Finland - The Shoplifter

Theft is a recurring theme in Tom's early work. This shoplifter from 1958 must be one of the earliest examples and casts the clumsy felon in a fairly sympathetic light - more young rascal than villain. This is another 'being found out' scene and although it's rather different in character to the examples involving illicit, sexual dalliance that I pointed out in Kakes 19 and 24, it involves the same ingredients of exposure, embarrassment and anxiety for what may follow. Most gays will relate to the fear of exposure and this young man's state of undress compared with the other characters serves to emphasise his suddenly awkward predicament. There is no follow-up image but those skimpy shorts seem to cry out for a spanking.

Note the contrasting treatments of the two authority figures here, the unpleasant, sneaky woman (as usual for Tom) versus the improbably suave, male shopkeeper who, far from being angry, seems to be contemplating with satisfaction the opportunity provided by the young thief who has delivered himself (gift-wrapped you might say) into his power. Judging by the notice on the counter, one suspects he isn't going to pass up this opportunity by simply calling the police. Tom uses gay underground language here to slip some 'hidden eroticism' past the straight censors but it also introduces the possibility that the young man's apparently inept efforts at thievery are more calculating than they seem and that in fact the two men are sharing a secret joke from which the woman is excluded.

Bear in mind that Tom was already 47 when he drew this and it seems more likely that he identified with the older figures in these drawings sadistically enjoying the discomfort of the young.

Tom of Finland - The Saddle Thief (1958)

Tom's thieves always get caught in the act. In the same year he drew a series of pictures where a leather-jacketed, equally young biker is caught, apparently trying to steal a cowboy's saddle (to sniff?). Unlike the shoplifter he attempts to escape and is first spanked for his impudence, then tied spread-eagled for a more painful lashing with his own belt. In this picture his captors take the chance to loosen his jeans while he is defenceless. You can see something of Quaintance's lanky Latino's in the way Tom has drawn these men

Tom could not publish pictures with full frontal stripping at this time but the way the captive seems to be shrinking away from the invading hand is pretty erotic in it's own right. The explanation is that this series was intended for sale by mail order. It consists of around 20 drawings and you will find examples with the images numbered. Magazines like Physique Pictorial could publish the innocuous initial images as a 'come on' for the meatier items in the full set which readers could discreetly buy through the post. This was the way erotic/gay publishing got round censorship restrictions. (Photographs delivered through the Post actually feature in the storyline of Kake 25).

Tom actually played it pretty safe in this set. As the belting gets under way the would-be robber's unbuttoned jeans slip down, suggestively exposing just the upper part of his buttock to the lash. By the time he is eventually freed in the final picture, his backside (comprehensively saddle-sore) is completely uncovered but it's discreetly facing away from us as he makes his escape, hindered humiliatingly by the sagging jeans. It's enough to imply that he has experienced a fully bare ass beating - and maybe something more. In his haste to get away he leaves his precious leather jacket behind, adding a very traditional moral to the yarn.

The calculating nature and severity of the punishment meted out in this story is quite striking. Popular imagery of this era was routinely violent (after all this is the hey-day of cowboy and war films) but it was not usually explicit or cruel. 

Tom of Finland - The Cowboy and Thieves 1
Tom produced another series with a cowboy in 1960 but this time the bikers attempt to steal his clothes while he is still wearing them. This results in a memorable 'forcible stripping' image which makes the erotic intent rather more obvious, particularly given the 'glamourised' tough guy treatment of the T-shirted assailant.

As it turns out, the rogues seem totally uninterested in their captive once they have stripped him to his underwear and tied him up. If there were any more suggestive images in the series they seem to have disappeared. Instead they fall out over who should get the gun (which could be read as a deadly dispute over what should happen to the cowboy and another possible contender for my 'sinister Tom' collection). While they fight the cowboy manages to escape from his bindings and turns the tables on them. 
Tom of Finland - The Cowboy and Thieves 2

The cowboy's clothes which are the basis of this story are similar to those seen in the previous example. They reflect the fashions of the time - perhaps a little too closely for lasting appeal. They also seem to be suggestive of wealth and a 'flamboyant' character. However, in this era cowboy heroes seen on film and TV, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey were always immaculately dressed like this and invariably stood for high moral values. This rather nice double bondage finale thus symbolises the (rather smug) triumph of good and decency, which tells you quite a lot about Tom's character at the age of 47. 
Robert Fuller - star of Laramie
The grittier, earthy cowboy hunks of Rawhide and Laramie were just over the horizon in 1960
 but even in the 80's Tom's cowboys were still very neatly dressed.
Tom of Finland - Night Visitor
1961 sees one of Tom's most memorable pictures as a jockstrap clad young man tackles a rather nasty looking intruder, whose torn T-shirt echoes the unscrupulous tough guy in the 'cowboy roped' series above. As with the shoplifter image there's a degree of ambiguity about the purity of intentions of the householder, indicated by his knowing determined look and the yawning dishevelled bed behind him. The intruder might well be similarly inclined judging by his carelessly groping hand which makes a matching fit - Yin and Yang - with the artfully highlighted bulge in his attacker's jock. Or perhaps that just fortuitous. Another example of Tom's talent for tantalising, hidden eroticism.

The overpowering of the villain is an important element in all these theft scenarios and Tom makes it the sole subject of this one. You might pleasurably speculate about who is straight and who is gay here, but there's also a message in this picture about standing up for yourself against villains, no matter how vulnerable your opponent might imagine you to be and no matter how audacious he is in invading your most private space. So a picture about 'overpowering' is itself 'empowering' and that is why we connect with it so strongly. You may recall I mentioned this image as an influence on Takeshi Matsu.

This is a prime example of Tom's craft at a particular moment in his life when he was gaining wider and wider acceptance as a gay man through his art. It's good that Tom chose relatively timeless styles for the setting and clothing of these men because this picture's message continues to be relevant today. Gay men, who no matter how liberated and how much accepted they are, will always be a minority and always obliged to assert their distinctive identity and special brand of masculinity amidst a sea of remorseless heterosexuality. Tom is one of our cheerleaders.
Tom of Finland - The Leather Outfit Thief 1
Also in 1961 Tom drew a series which opens with a young man covertly watching a muscular biker strip out of his leathers in preparation for sunbathing. Tom uses a novel, close-up view to enhance the erotic appeal of this majestic specimen of manhood and the watching youth is probably a reminiscence of his own teens. Most of us will have had this experience. As the god-like creature settles down for his sun-worshipping the furtive watcher homes in on his bike and leathers. 
Tom of Finland - The Leather Outfit Thief 2
This thief lingers to try on the outfit and is spotted by it's owner who gives chase and punishes him with a spanking. I say thief, but to be fair there is a degree of ambiguity in this story, where the offenders guilt is implied by him bolting when challenged. His terrified flight from the naked man he was admiring but a short while before is a masterpiece of irony and full of overtones about acceptance of one's sexuality and discovering the true nature of man to man sex.

The poor lad might claim that he only wanted to try the clothes on – a lesser offence in legalistic terms but not necessarily much less offensive to the owner. Trying on someone else's clothes as though to borrow ('steal'?) their envied qualities is a surprisingly powerful urge but this chap has not realised there's also a reverse effect whereby the borrower becomes more like the clothes' owner and therefore more attractive to him, one of the gang if you like. It's one of the more subtle effects of uniforms in the military as well as the leather scene

Tom of Finland - The Leather Outfit Thief 3
The setting for this scene is a beach fringed by a wood which invokes a typical gay cruising ground and the easy pickings of unattended belongings in these places frequently attract thieves. The dunes in Gran Canaria have their own resident thief who regularly appears to steal the bags of men engaged elsewhere. We can only speculate as to whether Tom ever experienced this himself but interestingly this same storyline is revisited by him later in the 60's and developed further for Kake 2&5.
Tom of Finland - Biker Captive

There are plenty of pictures by Tom where punishment is being inflicted but it isn't clear whether thievery is the cause. In my article on black characters I speculated about one from 1962 and this is it's companion picture showing the offender struggling impotently with his bindings while his captors gloat over his arousal. 
Tom of Finland - Crate & Crowbar
This crowbar and crate picture from 1963 is an equally intriguing possibility, but the 'Thief' pictures are really a subset of a wider group of 'offence and retribution' scenarios reflecting Tom's observations of unsatisfactory male behaviour and which would include, for example, the photograph-bending Postman (Kake 25) and the Cowboy-bending Outlaw (Kake 23), also the Motorbike-bending Cyclist and the coffee-spilling Sailor from article 1.
Tom of Finland - The Motor Cycle Thief
Tom changes tack in 1964 slightly where a biker's motorbike, parked next to a roadside snack trailer is stolen while he's having a drink. There's absolutely no ambiguity about the intentions here and as always the felon is spotted in the act and even with the help of a motorbike he is unable to outrun retribution. He is tied to a tree and belted on his bare backside. You can see how Tom's sensuous style continues to develop in these years and the figures begin to fill the frame drawing us into the erotic intimacy of the scene.

Tom of Finland - Leather Thief (Kake 5)
Later on in the 60's Tom revisits the theft of unattended leathers from a raunchy gay beach (in Kake 2). Again there is no ambiguity about the crime, nor significantly is there any doubt about the sexual orientation of the perpetrator, he is gay. The thief/voyeur is caught later (in Kake 5 )when he returns to the scene of his first offence wearing the very same clothes he stole previously. Ironically, Kake is also wearing 'borrowed' clothes at this point and appropriately enough it's a policeman's uniform. He gives chase and overpowers the felon, a struggle which Tom depicts in some detail across several pictures attracting as much effort as his punishment.

There's more than enough justification here for stripping the captive of his clothes and Kake is assisted by two men he's just been playing with, which gives the ritual a little more edge and foreshadows a multi-pronged punishment as, for the first time, Tom supplements the mandatory belting with an explicit sexual humiliation - the guilty man is penetrated singly and severally before being discarded, handcuffed to a bench to await the approaching policeman . As I remarked in my original Kake 5 article, there's a considerable degree of venom in the punishment, which is erotic but also suggests a significant degree of emotional involvement on Tom's part.


Why was Tom so preoccupied with this scenario? 
Obviously at a superficial erotic level it gives plenty of seemingly legitimate scope for depicting man to man struggle, forced stripping, bondage and spanking (but not sexual invasion - that's a different thought process altogether!). However his repeated returns to the subject suggests there may be more to it than that, perhaps in his own life experience.

Clothes, which feature prominently in these stories, were important to Tom. Hooven tells us he was something of a dandy in the 40's (his late twenties). He designed his own clothes including leathers which would have been a very personal (and expensive) expression of his individuality and sexuality. It's entirely possible he may have experienced the loss of them perhaps during a casual gay encounter such as he depicts in these stories. The clothes may also be a metaphor for something else equally personal and precious such as his own drawings and we know he lost a suitcase containing both of these things during a traumatic visit to Berlin in 1954. This was a loss of something which was intensely personal and secret , an irreplaceable record of his youthful sexual feelings which his orientation had prevented him from enjoying to the full. He surely would have mourned it's loss for the rest of his days.

In fact, he was destined to suffer repeated losses connected with his drawings later in life, when originals submitted for publication or for exhibition were neither paid for, nor returned to him and also when his early Kake's were pirated without payment of royalties. Once such incident in the mid-70's may well have been the trigger for his return to the Thief scenario in 1977. It's also not impossible that Tom's feelings in these drawings reflect the cumulative effect of other painful life experiences beyond his control which also entailed a loss of 'innocence', such as normal bereavement of course, being gay, his enforced war service (where he killed a man) or simply growing older – Tom was 56 in 1977.

Tom of Finland - The Locker Room Thief 1
Tom's 70's output (with some notable exceptions) mostly consists of arty explorations and innocuous sexual encounters, including most of his middle series Kake (Nos 10-20), but in 1977 he produced the 'Locker Room Thief' series. Once again it's leathers being stolen but the intimate setting of a changing room gives the robbery the same deeply invasive character as the bedroom-burglar scene above, rekindling the same sense of affront and vulnerability. 
Tom of Finland - The Locker Room Thief 2
The naked owner emulates his 60's predecessor, having no hesitation in tackling the fully-clad thief and making sure he doesn't stay that way for long. What follows is a ferocious belting and sexual humiliation before the offender is contemptuously cast out onto the street, into the gutter, with his jeans flung after him – not even kept as a souvenir by the intended victim. It's a powerful expression of anger and contempt, but interestingly, for this very reason it does not quite achieve the same inspirational impact as the 1961 picture. What it does do, is to hammer home the good vs bad morality which I pointed out for earlier works in this article.

Tom of Finland - Punk in the Locker Room
The Locker Room Thief seems to have done the trick in clearing Tom's obsession, or perhaps his life simply settled on a calmer course. Soon after this, in 1982, his long term partner died which would temper most people's anger. Whatever the explanation, there are no more thief scenarios after this, apart from (possibly) this Black-on-Punk imagery from his final years which substitutes cheerful confidence and assertiveness for rage and contempt.

In some ways Tom seems to have been very worldly wise - his international travelling and sexual adventures, his war service, his astute targeting of subject matter for his drawings, his talent for hidden eroticism and knowledge of arcane practices such as sounding all point to this. Yet he was also quite naïve in other ways, like incorporating stereotypical African 'Natives', Hijackers and Nazis into his images and not least keeping his precious drawings in his travelling suitcase and showing them to casual pick-ups. He was a repeat victim of people he trusted with his drawings which were something immensely precious and meaningful to him. This repeated experience of betrayal must have been very dispiriting for him, probably more so than the financial loss involved, since time and time again it was other gay men who did this to him and it must have made him doubt on his own judgement and stoke his resentment against the unfair laws which drove him into the arms of these unscrupulous individuals as the only outlet for his work. 
An expression of frustration and rage was an understandable response.

Tom's later associates bemoan the fact that Tom lost out on income through piracy, theft and simple exploitation and this unquestionably must have rankled with him as it would with anyone else and yet he also seems to have been quite fatalistic about it and lukewarm about pursuing the issue on his own account. The trouble was that Tom always wanted to share his work and inspire other gay men with it and he knew that conventional publishing channels limited what he could do and who he could reach. The 'betrayals' helped make possible the spreading his work more widely, and ultimately more successfully than he could ever have imagined. He actually died just before the internet began to change the world of publishing and make 'pirates' of us all but I expect he would have been comfortable with it, deploring and approving it in similar measure, not least because it has both enabled and forced his modern day heirs and custodians to continue to share it and not hide it behind museum walls.

To be continued in Part 9
Links to previous articles: Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3 , Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part7

For other artists in the A-Z series click on the label below or search by name.

Thursday 16 October 2014

A-Z of Fetish Artists - Tom of Finland - 7

7 Black and White (continued)
Tom - Black Model (1972)
In the 18 years from 1967 to 1984 Tom only produced occasional pictures with black characters. It was during these years that he was busy producing the Kake booklets of course and the more substantial 'Pekka' series but as we have noticed, black characters are equally scarce in these. His 'non-storybook' black drawings in this entire period amount to less in total than the number he had produced just in the 5 preceding years. Many of them are portraits or else have a rather serious 'arty' feel about them, like the striking image above from 1972 and at the other end of the 70's (for example) there's a picture loosely based on Leonardo's 'Vitruvian Man' but with a kneeling black guy mischievously at work at the rear of the arms-spread poser. 
The image here shows a beautiful young man but with it's hint of a crucifixion seems a touch political (and typically provocative). The face in this image has that infusion of the young Muhammed Ali which I mentioned in the last article and interestingly this picture comes shortly after Ali's return to boxing and the public stage after winning his long and bruising battle with the US Government over serving in the Vietnam War, but I can't substantiate any connection between the two.
Tom - Poked (1978)
This image from 1978 is one of the few explicit and fetishistic works in this period. During this time Tom blurs the differences between black and white - with blandness of features in his serious pieces (see previous example) and with exaggeration of lips and jaws in his caricaturing style. In this picture he has drifted back into stereotypical representation of his black character (note their relative cock sizes!) but this is a long way from the story-telling rough and tumble of the 60's.
There's a distinct touch of malicious pleasure in the power-play here but I'd hesitate to ascribe any political meaning to it. However, the character under the collar is most intriguing, his face is quite unlike any of Tom's other creations which makes one wonder if it's meant to be a real person and if so is this a particular revenge fantasy or just about being dominated?

Tom - Cop Sandwich (1985)

From 1985 to his last pictures in 1990, Tom seems to rediscover black men. Half of his entire 'black collection' comes in this short period. This is no doubt a consequence of his visits to the USA starting in 1978 when he would have met real blacks in a gay environment. However, something else must have triggered the sudden intense interest that appears in 1985.
A couple of portraits from this period point towards personal acquaintances, but the evidence is there to see anyway in the way he depicts black men - even in his trademark cartoon style pictures. With small subtle changes they suddenly become more differentiated and authentically black in appearance, a process you can almost see happening between the faces in this picture. We can also see the discovery of reciprocal interest, seemingly registered with surprise on the sandwiched cop's face. A number of other pictures in this period show the white cop pursued by black admirers. Perhaps this is Tom's wishful thinking.
Tom - Private Punishment (1985)

Making this true connection with black men seems to free Tom to involve them in his pictures in a way he didn't really do before. This image epitomises that breakthrough with black and white in uniform together, both working over their black ''prisoner'. I believe it's Tom's only black-on-black scene and it completely casts off the political shackles of race and history.
The white cop is something of a triumph too, a sort of muscular, rejuvenated Kake who has somehow usurped the threatening cop figure of earlier times, here wielding his paddle with unashamed lust.
There's a nostalgic look back at the motifs of earlier years in these final pictures, the fence and the figure peeping over it are an example, we can only imagine what significance this had for Tom to use it so often.
Tom - Punk Punishment (1986)

There's a supreme sense of triumph in this picture from 1986 but for once there's no cop or Kake figure to steal the limelight. Tom started drawing Punks in his last years, doubtless another reflection of his discoveries in America, and he seems to have assigned them the character of non-conforming, mischievous goblins, so this one's appearance in a locker room scene immediately suggests that old favourite scenario 'the thief'. He might equally be a peeping Tom, but his tightly-zipped jeans suggest a non-sexual reason for his presence. In Europe, punks have a reputation for fascist sympathies and the arm tattoos on this man seem to bear that out, making the 'forfeit' here all the more unpleasant for him and deliciously satisfying for us.
The promotion of a black athlete to do the honours here, restoring order, seems enormously significant in another way too, because this forced-sucking, domination pose is one of Tom's most cherished and most repeated scenarios. It's a direct descendent of the 'Careless Motorcyclist' picture with which I began this series of articles and a situation repeated in the 'Careless Sailor', 'The Intruder' and the 'Careless Postman'.
Tom - Hands Against The Wall

This is one of Tom's last pictures and though not his best, it is in some ways a final act of integration with the black man assuming the role once taken by Kake. Forced against the wall, he becomes the random victim of a lust-filled cop abusing his power. An unreconstructed Tom has not bothered with any ambiguity about the level of coercion nor the victim's willingness. However, the style of the drawing and the familiarity to us of the location (recognise the fence?) tell us that this is fantasy and not political.
Or is it?

In these final images Tom's view of black men reaches maturity, they have clear, separate, adult identity which is not just a modified white man. They participate in the sexual rituals of Tom's Land not simply as equals but as fully fledged men in all their complexity, lustful and lusted after, sometimes submissive, sometimes dominant, both loving and beloved. Tom's work, as always, reflects the world around him and he evolves along with it.

To be continued in Part 8
Links to previous articles: Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3 , Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

For other artists in the A-Z series click on the label below or search by name.

Monday 13 October 2014

A-Z of Fetish Artists - Tom of Finland - 6

Part 6 Black and White 
This article is about race and I have tried to pick my words carefully, but I'd be glad to hear from anyone who thinks I've chosen badly and will try to put it straight.

 Tom - Biker Trio, 1973 
In part 4, I commented on the unexpected scarcity of black characters in the Kake series. Despite all those adventures and orgies, there are just 2 blacks in the 26 stories, around 3% of the characters. It's unexpected because Tom is noted for the inclusion of black and white men together in his pictures and that's by no means a common occurrence in erotic art. Most of the artists featured in my A-Z series are exclusively white, while the black artist Belasco, for example is exclusively black. This is not entirely surprising, most artists tend to draw what they are familiar with, but on my calculations around 10% of Tom's commonly available pictures feature non-whites. This is a most compelling counter-argument to criticism of his fascist uniform imagery.
Much to my astonishment, Hooven's 'Life and Times of Tom' which I have drawn on heavily for biographical information does not mention blacks at all or show an image containing one. All the more surprising since in the picture above from 1973 (for example) the black character is the most carefully drawn of the three and there cannot be any doubt that Tom found him beautiful, although conspiracy theorists might point to the way the other bikers seem to ignore him!

Tom did not date his early pictures but the first appearance of a black man is thought to be the beach image below, believed to be from 1961. The total whiteness of pre-1961 Tom is not entirely surprising since Tom's homeland, Finland and the adjacent countries he visited were predominantly white. Durk Dehner says mixed race drawings were not publishable in the US prior to this which I don't doubt, but I'm not sure that 1961 marked any watershed in that respect – the 1973 picture above for example seems to suffer from similar inhibitions. Durk's observation doesn't really take account either of Tom's European outlets or his private collection, which could have contained anything he wanted, but nothing has surfaced from there either, although we know that some of his 50's output got lost or stolen. 
 Tom - On The Beach (1961)
The star of the 1961 picture is unquestionably the sailor who is a fine representative of Tom's early 'glamour' style and irresistible to all who see him. That includes the black man who has been reading a girly magazine and is seated as though he is part of a separate, unseen group. This suggestion of 'segregation' is unintentionally political, but the character's outsider status bolsters his 'black and straight' virility credentials, presenting him as 'hard to get'. Tom may also simply be including this character to conjure up a 'typical' American setting, but we know enough about him to realise he would be fully aware of the frisson added by bridging the divides of race and sexuality.
(Incidentally this distinctive beach setting with it's secluded canyons between dunes must surely be based on a real gay meeting place Tom had visited.)
Tom's portrayal of a black face here is sympathetic, he doesn't resort to caricature, but it's boyish rather than manly and the contrast with the racial authenticity of the 1974 picture is considerable. If Tom was seeking to invoke the reputed sexual 'prowess' of non-white races here, this rather safe rendering doesn't shout it out.
There's a companion picture in which this character joins in the orgy just like everyone else, but it's in a supporting, sucking role and it's only his skin colour that distinguishes him from the others. I suspect there may have been more pictures in the series involving a more penetrative role which perhaps were too challenging for the mixed race taboo. However, Tom soon crosses that bridge....

Tom - Wary Captive (1962)
This 1962 image is more interesting to fetish fans, it's the first of a pair where a young black man is tied between posts by two calculating biker types. There's a suggestive power play going on here but since the tied up black character is once again shown as boyish, with a fearful, innocent expression, he earns our total sympathy, but it suggests this is more than an initiation scene. There's not much doubt that Tom is playing the 'black = big' card here but to modern eyes the baby-faced victim is also drawing uncomfortably on stereotypes of 'acceptable' blackness. 
Tom - Centrepiece (1962)
This related picture suggests more maturity in the victim giving added punch to the penetrative inter-racial sex, which even in Europe at this time would have been frowned upon, but it was also commonly seen as racy and exciting. The extra characters in this scene with their distinctive outfits and Sam Browne belts link to another image of the time known as the 'Dare Devils' - a circus style act. Their presence suggests there is a wider story here. The punishment paddle raises the possibility that this is another of Tom's 'theft' scenarios, which would potentially lead us even deeper into the minefield of negative stereotyping.

Tom - Jack and The Explorer (ca 1965)
Tom adds more fuel to this particular fire with his 'Jack in the Jungle' series (ca 1965) in which a white Tarzan-like figure repeatedly battles to extricate himself and other white men from the clutches of local tribesmen who are not only cast in role of childlike savages - uneducated, uncivilised, sheep (as was the pulp fiction custom of the time) but susceptible to bribery by sexual favours rather than the customary currency of cheap jewellery. But at least they are seen as desirable and come out in a better light than the woman in this story. 

To be fair, Tom here is simply copying the popular Tarzan films and books of his time. 'Jack in the Jungle' was probably a commercially motivated experiment and although it has some sexy moments it lacks the gritty relevance of Tom's usual output and is an artistic dead end. There's an unexpected (but isolated) recurrence of this weakness for pulp fiction stereotypes later on, in his portrayal of a North American Indian in Kake 23 (1982!). 
The naïvely drawn faces in Tom's early 'black' pictures suggest a lack of close study of the subject, so the pre-1961 absence of black characters may simply reflect lack of personal interest. We'll never know what happened to spark it off – whether it was a personal experience, maybe connected with passing 40 and reviewing his life, or perhaps a reflection of the unrest and worldwide debate leading up to the passing of the US Civil Rights Act in 1964. 
Tom - Locker Room Lads (1965)
Jack aside, Tom's exploration of black characters at this time seems to have more to do with desire, exploration and crossing the divide than any negative attitudes. This idea seems to find explicit expression in the last of the 'boyish' pictures in 1965. This innocent-looking young black guy is the object of unsought, unbridled lust and he's clearly responding strongly, if confusedly. The seated stance of his 'attacker' is non-threatening and he's half turned towards us, allowing us to observe. It's as though we are all reaching out with him, to bring in the catch and enjoy him. The ambitious perspective is a bit awry, but for my money this is one of Tom's cleverest and sexiest pictures. Notice that in this picture, the 'big cock' stereotyping of black men is not only irrelevant, Tom seems to mischievously reverse it!

Tom - A Birching (1960's)
There's another relevant event in 1964, when American boxer Cassius Clay (later Mohammed Ali) won the world heavyweight boxing championship. Tom was not really interested in sport, his sporting images are rarer than hen's teeth, but his early pictures often show boys scrapping and Clay's arrogant, articulate confidence and undeniable ability was not easily ignored by anyone. His championing of equality and committed opposition to the Vietnam war both charmed and shocked 'white society' and changed perceptions of black people. Tom was impressed enough to do a drawing (not good enough to include here) which appears to show Clay getting shafted in the ring by a white and enjoying it. It's as if Tom is saying he's 'one of us' – at least we wish he was. 
Clay's appearance and belligerent personality seems to seep into Tom's pictures after this and I like to think the image above might be a product of that process. The date is unknown but stylistically it seems to fit the mid-60's. Not only do blacks outnumber the white man in this picture, they are solemnly subjecting him to a fiercely painful birching, which is arousing for them if not for him. The complete reversal of the usual power relationships is intensely erotic of course. 
Tom - Pleasure (1964) 
This picture, from 1964 perhaps shows Tom's true intentions more clearly. You may not have appreciated the racial element in this image before, but it shows a white boy positively melting under the touch of a black man, with a suggestion of deeper intimacy going on. It looks like this picture was meant for publication, Tom's well-honed skill in 'hidden eroticism' is put to new use undermining the mixed race taboo - and arguably undermining his claims to be non-political too.
This black man (no longer a cuddly boy) seems to be a representative of his race rather than a individual with a personality, but his firm grip and dignified manly stance is entirely positive and a beautiful foil for the exuberant, joyous pleasure of his partner.
This is an powerful expression of illicit desire fulfilled.
The fluidity of the foreground pose here is unusual for Tom suggesting strong emotions and enthusiasm at work. There's a certain kinship to the style of the locker room picture too. But if this picture marks the transition in Tom's blacks from boys to men, it also seems to symbolise or foreshadow a more fundamental change from the youthful, exuberance of the early works (represented by the blond) to the more measured, earthy, adult sexuality represented by the partly hidden black man.
The advent of this picture is part of a wider change and not just racially. Up to this time, in the UK at least, there was a feeling that sex between boys was part of growing up and more acceptable than sex between adult men. Racial differentiation is also less pronounced at this age, and these two factors may partly explain the persistence of boyish imagery in Tom's early black pictures. A way of making them less provocative. But as the 60's progressed, attitudes like this were beginning to dramatically reverse.

Tom - Sixty Nine
This image seems to perfectly encapsulate the direction of change. These two men are both indisputably adult and as sixty-nine's go this is exceptionally intimate, passionate and downright dirty! It's attributed to the year 1963 in the Tom Retrospective Vol 3, which would make it earlier than image 7 above.

I'm not totally convinced about the year, the subject and style seem rather more advanced than this. The inscription on the picture places it later in the sixties but is ambiguous and not necessarily contemporary. Regardless of this, to depict a mixed race encounter in this way at this time would have been considered deeply shocking and offensive by many, not least because of the role given to the white man. This may be why the racial identity of the nearer figure is disguised/ ambiguous and pretty much invisible to the casual observer. Recognise that Tom is not campaigning here, but he is deliberately (and successfully) defying moral outrage as an erotic lever.

Interestingly, there is also an orgy picture from 1963 in which a solitary black man is included but he's equally well disguised (ref:- Tom Retro Vol 1 p36). This might raise the suspicion that Tom sees black men as just another stereotype, but although Tom did a number of other pictures of orgies and 'parades' of favourite stereotypes, the sailor, the construction worker etc.. you won't find a black man amongst them until the 80's.

I reckon Tom produced a quarter of his 'black' pictures in a burst of interest between 1961 and 1966 and it's followed by a quieter period up to the 70's when the rather more sophisticated image which tops this article appeared marking a new phase which I will discuss next time.

To be continued in Part 7
Links to previous articles: Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3 , Part 4, Part 5

For other artists in the A-Z series click on the label below or search by name.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Revised A-Z Entry - Joseph

Who lives in a house like this? *
 That's the puzzle for the viewer in this picture by Joseph.
I have substantially revised the original A-Z entry on this artist with new pictures to reflect his  recent fetish work, you can read the full entry here with links to his blog.

*If you don't recognise this allusion, it's the catch phrase from the opening credits of a UK TV programme called 'Through the Keyhole'. Cameras visit the homes of (supposedly) well-known celebrities and a panel of the same ilk guess (supposedly) the identity of the star from clues provided by the presenter.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Tom of Finland and Fascism - a Historical Context

Tom of Finland's controversial picture showing an SS man whipping a captive (referenced in Part 5 of my Tom of Finland A-Z article and reproduced in Hooven's biography of him*) can be seen in a different light if the historical position of Finland during the Second World War is understood.

Finland did not exist as an independent nation until 1917, just a few years before Tom was born. It had been a Russian possession for over 100 years and before that part of Sweden. The Finns seized their independence during the chaos of the Bolshevik revolution and despite gaining international recognition had difficult relations with Russia over borders in the years that followed. In the tensions and machinations preceding WW2, Russia demanded land and military bases inside Finland and eventually invaded in 1939, when Tom would have been 18. He was called up for military service the following year. 

It was a bitterly fought war and Finland, fighting alone, inflicted significant defeats on the Russians before being forced to yield to their superior strength. It's not hard to imagine how much hatred young Finns like Tom must have felt for the Russians, but Hooven recounts how Tom actually killed a Russian paratrooper during his war service and was mortified to discover he was a beautiful young man, not a demon. This incident at a very impressionable age deeply affected him.

The German government had cultivated Finland as an ally against Russia during the inter-war years and Tom visited Germany twice on pre-war school trips as a teenager. No doubt he saw them as a friendly people based on his personal experiences. The Finnish people never supported Fascism and Jews were not persecuted by them but the Nazi's themselves were widely admired in the 30's for the order they brought to Germany after the economic chaos of the Weimar Republic. Their hatred of homosexuals was no great secret but Tom was still young then and if he was aware of such things at all, he'd have known that attitudes were not much different in his homeland. As it happens, homosexuals put into concentration camps by the Nazi's were compelled to complete their sentences after the war and their oppression was not acknowledged at all until the 70's. 

Germany's non-aggression pact with Russia in 1939 ensured there was no help them during the 'Winter War' but when alliances shifted in 1941, Finland allowed Germany to attack Russia across their territory and took the opportunity to join in and recover land that had been lost the previous year. Ultimately that effort failed too but the sense of Russians as bitter enemies and Germans as friends was reinforced.

During this period German soldiers mingled freely with the Finns. Tom seems to have done his share of fraternising, which could have included members of the SS who were specifically assigned to carry out intelligence and political liaison functions in occupied and allied territories - not just their infamous, brutal role in suppressing opposition that culminated in 'The Final Solution'.

Given this intermingling, Tom's 1973 idealisation of a German soldier in uniform is not very hard to understand, and his choice of SS uniform, complete with  swastika, is probably less about Nazi-dom than it seems to us in retrospect. His rather brutish characterisation of the prisoner, however, especially in the preliminary sketch (above), raises the intriguing possibility that he is working through his antipathy to the Russian/Militaristic aggression which had obliged him to kill another man in his youth and in which the German soldiers had assisted his homeland. 

Why depict this in 1973?  Perhaps because in this year the Vietnam war against the (Russian-supported) Communists was entering the end-game of defeat for the western allies and Russia was also threatening to intervene in the Yom Kippur war to aid it's allies (Syria and Egypt) after their failed attempt to restore the historical borders of Palestine (now Israel). It was a time of violent redrawing of boundaries, unnatural alliances and great tensions between world powers a familiar, disturbing tale for Tom. 

Revisiting this article today (in June 2023) it seems as if the upheavals of the two World Wars have never really ended. New, extreme, ideological causes and land grabs have grown out of the injustices of the past and new dictators have stepped in to exploit them and wreak havoc on the world.

I don't have a copy of the finished SS picture and haven't been able to find it on-line but it is reproduced in Hooven's book:

*Ref: Page 31 of "Tom of Finland - His Life and Times", by F. Valentine Hooven III (1994)