Los Angeles

Tom of Finland

Mark Moore Gallery

One of the surer signs of life’s imitating art would be gay men’s “’70s clone” deportment (T-shirt, tight jeans, bushy mustache, etc.) revisited by ’80s and ’90s gym queens—“types” that might be traced as far back as the loving exaggerations of ’50s amateur bodybuilders (in underground ’zines like Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial) by Tom of Finland, whose pencil, pen, and ink, almost magically, shaped and still shapes, for better or worse, much faggot flesh.

This retrospective of Finland’s oeuvre spanned tender-hearted gouaches from as early as 1946 through graphite works from the “Titeaters” series finished in 1987, revealing his project to have been documentation of the thinglike, more precisely noun-like aspects of the male body and the gear with which it makes itself known: beard, torso, pectoral, fist, cock, balls, butt, hip huggers, boots, bomber jackets, short shorts, military and police uniforms, etc. He began in advertising, and his art is an ad for a type of man. It is also brilliant fashion illustration: these are men who become who they are by dressing up or undressing. Truman Capote described a particularly large schlong as “big as a baby’s arm holding an apple.” Most of Finland’s men pack such proportions. He caught the shadow, sway, and elegance of such packages with the same finesse he brought to a black, knee-high, double-buckle boot. Gorgeously rendered, both cock and boot have an accessory-like quality and eroticism.

Whatever the light-hearted pleasures to be found (swinging aerialists, one whose big stiff member is poised to plug the ass of his giddy partner, from a series called “Circus” done for Revolt Press in 1975) and despite Finland’s own declaration that he wouldn’t mind being “known as the Norman Rockwell of gay erotica,” it would be really dull-witted to proclaim, as one critic did, that Finland’s work makes homosexuality “as American as apple pie—and a whole lot more wholesome.” While I refuse to call it unnatural, surely the point, if there is one, of one man anally fisting another is not an experience of wholesomeness, but a shattering or bypassing of the wholeness of some notion of self and/or masculinity. Finland’s genius was to consider how any intersection or confrontation between male bodies builds up as it takes apart the architecture of masculinity, which may not exist except as something to be invented, dreamed. Perhaps the most breathtaking example of such consideration was an undated, untitled graphite drawing on paper of a hitchhiker, hip-hugging jeans painted on his skin, tucked into knee-high boots, his butt plump and peach-perky; shirtless, his vest leaves available an ample amount of lower-back midriff and accents his arm’s definition. One hand is thumb-out, he seems to pump himself with the other. Finland knew the importance of such stances. Desire, like dreaming, often begins when someone turns away from you.

Bruce Hainley