In Finland’s childhood notebook, from age 7, we witness a youthful attention to brotherhood and themes of labor and masculinity. In a page from his childhood notebook (1928) on view in an entryway vitrine, a hand-drawn comic with watercolor describes a firefighting scene, where women and children are compartmentalized – and separated – by comic cells and boxed-in subplots. Here, Finland is learning the trade of telling stories visually, tapping into gender-appropriate boyhood joys: firemen, police teams, trucks, comic books. The themes of homosociality and men – which rarely leave a Finland frame – are evident in these early drawings, as is his sense of humor. What is remarkable about these early pieces is his focus on memory, expressed in one cell where the child’s thematic concerns are trumped by his detailed attention to depict a house roof. Rather than representing a roof by an upside-down V, suggestive of efficiency and schematization, the young man draws out systematic and evenly-spaced rafters and ceiling joists. As his parents were both school-teachers (and not carpenters), the focus and visual breadth of this cell expresses the enhanced role draftsmanship is already playing in his developing creativity. Conceptually, perhaps the rafters and ceiling joists are indicative of the “underground,” supporting community he will later find.
While Canadian artist G.B. Jones, who has been called “the female Tom of Finland,” shifted Finland’s terms of fantasy and iconographic masculinity into overtly political themes of irony, Rough evidences a different shift through its massive exhibition of preliminary sketches. An early portrait sketch (whose production overlaps with Finland’s service in the Finnish Army as a lieutenant for the duration of WWII,1939-1945) such as Untitled (1944) toys with the scene of an anonymous blow job. In the sketch, Finland completes the frame, demeanor, and (especially) hairstyle and jacket folds of the top, while only a head and cap (pulled over the face) of the bottom, blowing and fully engulfed, are rendered. Though gallery director Benjamin suggests no sure trace between preliminary and master drawings with any of the studies on display, it is possible that Untitled (1946) grew out of Finland’s conception of anonymity. In the 1946 work, Finland draws out class distinctions and relations of power more thoroughly: colorizing the scene, revealing the face of the man blowing (his cap, which once shielded his eyes, now dons the head of the “top”), and adding a third player to the scene: a set of restraining hands, putting the status of the “top” in question.
This character joins a larger sex party in 1968 in Preliminary study for “The Rope” where he is finally placed in a geography (the forest), described from the front, and shares more fluid relations of power.