Life & Culture

Tom of Finland’s Drawings, as Seen by a Female Artist

Silvia Prada pays homage to the Finnish artist’s work, but also presents a female gaze

Growing up in a family-owned hair salon during the 1980s, Spanish artist Silvia Prada spent her formative years gazing upon countless images of male beauty and style, and developed a taste for gay pop icons. When she read an article on Tom of Finland in Interview magazine, Prada felt a profound kinship and liberation through the twin engines of sensuality and self-expression.

For Prada, Tom was a seminal force in shaping her aesthetic sensibilities and artistic processes. Joakim Andreasson, Prada’s good friend and creative director of the Tom of Finland Store, knew of her obsession and arranged an introduction to the Tom of Finland Foundation. From there, a beautiful collaboration began and has culminated in TOM, an online exhibition of new drawings and collages inspired by the archive, accompanied by a book of the same name from Capricious Publishing.

Here, Prada reflects on the universality of Tom’s work, and arts ability to speak to people of all genders and sexualities from all walks of life.

“For me, Tom of Finland is as huge as Andy Warhol, but he never had the recognition he deserved as an outsider. His work was very attractive in terms of sexuality. I was always an outsider. Even though I am gay, I never really connected with lesbian culture. I was into everything that relates to pop and gay. When I saw the article about Tom of Finland, I was like, ‘This is really sexy’ – but not in a sexual way or even about defining me as a gender because I am so feminine, too. Sexy has nothing to do with who you sleep with or how you represent as a gender; it goes beyond that. It’s an energy, something we always want to pursue: this freedom in sex.

“I feel like Tom and I work almost the same way: we do collages and then works on paper. I look at TOM as a historic achievement: I am the first woman who has had access to the Tom of Finland archives. I wanted to pay homage but also present a female gaze, relocating sexuality and style in a world that is not typically viewed as gay or macho. Let’s go back to freedom. Tom of Finland is a feminist. Silvia is a gay tomboy. I hope to make a statement that a woman knows a lot about this. We have to share ideas so that we don’t have those awful clichés. And that’s what Tom of Finland did.”

TOM is on view through October 4, 2018.