Joel Parsons, with pleasure

I’ve spent the majority of my time as a resident artist at Tom of Finland Foundation immersed in an archive of Tom’s sketches and preparatory drawings.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the way Tom’s unfinished work allows me to see his brain and hand collaborating, to understand the choices he was making as he crafted his images. In the process of gathering and abstracting his images to inform my own drawings, I was often caught between erotic and analytical responses to his work. As a casual viewer who is attracted to men, Tom’s work is, to put it blandly, easy for me to simply enjoy. As an artist and an academic, I was inclined to engage with the context of the work, to find the politics and the art historical importance. In grappling with these modes of viewing the work, which we are often told are mutually exclusive (especially in academic settings), I’ve come to believe that the only way to understand the work is through the erotic, not in aside from it or even in addition to it.

JOEL PARSONS (American, 1985-), Study #1, 2018, Graphite on paper, 14 x 11″

The drawings have immense intellectual, political, and art historical importance, absolutely, but that content is pinned under the pleasure, smothered in it, dripping with it. A viewer has to first admit desire and open themself to the murky, irrational erotic depths of the work. Reach elbow deep in there, and everything else can be found. (In particular I think that Tom’s work is incredibly political – as the pleasure of the sexual outlaw always is – but he isn’t often credited with this precisely because the politics are bound to the pleasure, and pleasure gets messy.)

JOEL PARSONS (American, 1985-), Study #2, 2018, Graphite on paper, 14 x 11″

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Slick It Up has just released a new collab with Tom of Finland. TBH … I WANT EVERYTHING. The swimsuits are works of art, and we didn’t even get the chance to talk about the t shirts, also gorgeous (my bf just ordered two). If you haven’t had a chance, take a look… hurry!


I can definitely see a connection between your brand, and the Tom’s man. How has Tom inspired your line in the past? The way you present your brand?

As a kid in college I actually made paintings fusing Tom of Finland with He man and Gi JOE so for them to come to me now and ask to do a collaboration is full circle.

Have you worked with Tom of Finland Foundation before?

In the ’90s I went to TOM House on thanksgiving and we handed out food to the homeless on skid row in full Tom of Finland gear.