Homage to Tom of Finland

October 21, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

09-Ricardo(12)-1035T-IG-Edit09-Ricardo(12)-1035T-IG-Edit When the makeup artist and body painter, Charles Zambrano, started discussing his idea for a new body-painting session, we each quickly thought of the same model as being ideal for the project:  Ricardo, the big, buff (for real) construction worker that has been modeling for the studio since shortly after his 21st birthday.  Gym-years later, this local body-builder (and brother of studio assistant and model, Alex) sports one of the most powerful torsos in the studio's stable of models.

Indeed, there is probably no one in the studio's portfolio who more closely resembles the body type required for Charles' latest artistic endeavor:  a tribute to the Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland.  With a world-wide following, he was a 20th century artist celebrated for his black-and-white drawings depicting highly sexualized, hypermasculine men.

It may be hard for some under the age of 50 to appreciate how popular and influential Tom's art was in the gay world of the late 20th century. In the days before screens, his art appeared in magazines, books, bars, posters, comic books and advertising worldwide.  From the 1950s through the 1980s, his aggressively butch fantasies of policemen, sailors, bikers, construction workers and gay daddies were iconic.  His overtly homoerotic work was so closely identified with the gay community that it had a palpable effect on wardrobe.  Pre-AIDS gay bars across the world were filled with "clones," young men cruising in the flannel and leather, caps and aviator sunglasses popularized by Tom of Finland.  

lisakuva2_tomoffinland_banner2lisakuva2_tomoffinland_banner2 While obviously controversial, Laaksonen, who died in 1991, nonetheless has been hailed as one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. After his death, a successful Tom of Finland line of clothing was established in the 90s; later the Museum of Modern Art in New York started acquiring his work.  

Perhaps the most impressive tribute to the enduring popularity of Laaksonen's art came from his home state of Finland.  In 2014, the nation issued a collection of commemorative stamps featuring his very gay drawings.  In doing so, they recognized the obvious: Tom of Finland was one of the most influential Finnish artists of all time.  His outsized impact on world culture was demonstrated when it became the best-selling stamp set ever issued by the postal service, with orders coming in from 178 countries nearly a quarter century after his death.

When the Emmy Award-winning makeup artist announced that he wanted to pay tribute to Laaksonen by bringing a Tom of Finland character to life, I didn't question his ability but I was all-in with curiosity to see how such a monochromatic pallet would work. I was aware of the fact that Laaksonen had consciously attempted to achieve a photorealistic style, making aspects of his drawings appear photographic.  It was a delightful creative challenge for all involved.  

Ricardo(13)-7Ricardo(13)-7 The person for whom there was the least challenge was the model.  Ricardo, fresh from the gym, arrived ready for the part.  Dress (or in this case "paint") him in the right wardrobe and Ricardo could step into any Tom of Finland setting.  (And yes, that's blue painter's tape.  Appropriately.)

I was impressed with Charles' talent at rendering with paint on flesh what Tom rendered with ink on paper.  We leave it to the viewer to judge how well we each succeeded.

Ricardo's newest gallery contains pre- and post-painting images.  Serious body painting has prerequisites.  Not only "gone is the beard," but gone is all body hair as well.  Ah, the sacrifices made in the name of art!

 

Enter the Tom of Finland gallery here

See The Art of Charles Zambrano here

 

Find more of our work with Ricardo here


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