A Gentleman's Guide

FEBRUARY | 2019

FEBRUARY | 2019 | BLACK, GAY & GIFTED

THE BLACK COUNTERP[ART]

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Have you ever heard of Touko Valio Laaksonen? No? Well, you should really do some research! Touko, a Finnish artist who was best known as Tom of Finland, has been admired for his homoerotic fetish art and the impact it's had on popular (white) gay culture. Tom of Finland has been credited as being one of the most influential creators of gay pornographic images and his work can be found everywhere among certain subsets of gay white culture. Almost, if not all, of his 3,500 illustrations depict animated subjects in biker hats, leather jackets, tight jeans, and precarious situations. Also, you can see all of their dongs as well. However, none of this is about Laaksonen and his obsession with the white male form. This is about something, someone, more SINister. Have you ever looked at the subject in a piece of art and thought, “damn, he’s fine!”? Have you ever seen an illustrated version of an already hot three-dimensional subject and thought about how, if he were to come to life, you’d let him hit? Well if not then you’re obviously not familiar with February's Black, Gay & Gifted feature, Sin. This 31-year-old Memphian is giving us something to love on just in time for Valentine’s Day and we’re excited to share his talent with you!

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Sin’s Instagram handle is icametosin, a hails from his affinity of dark themes and aesthetics. “ The name came about when I first started drawing my characters and needed something to call this whole venture.” His Instagram handle is a play on the phrase “I came to win”, but he “[...] wanted the whole sinful/lust aspect people placed on taboo gay, erotic themed art.” Sin (you can DM him if you’re that interested in learning his real name) was born in Chicago but got his bones in Kenosha, Wisconsin alongside his three younger brothers. “My upbringing had its highs and lows. It was weird navigating the world as a person of color who was interested in the things I got into, and my family not understanding my interests [and] weirdness.”

He credits his mother as doing a decent job in raising him as she nurtured his independent soul with the same maternal guidance once could expect from any mother who’s worth her weight in gold. “She let me kinda do my own thing with some guidance here and there. Overall my upbringing was not too bad.” Not unlike most of you reading this, Sin grew up in a household where mental health wasn’t acknowledged, and this presented him with some challenges, to say the least. “Knowing something was off with me, but not really understanding what, and going untreated for my now diagnosed bipolar and anxiety disorders was difficult, but I am learning to manage my mental health as an adult.” Outside of that, Sin also struggled with coming to terms with his sexuality and had a hard time with finding his place in life as a half Puerto Rican, half Black kid who enjoyed dark aesthetics and listened to alternative metal. “Thankfully I can now explore all I want as an adult and learn more as I get older.”

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If you’ve been keeping up with us for the past 14 months, you know that we thrive on being able to showcase talent within the community and are always interested in the stories that come with said talent. We’re also pretty crazy about representation, our kind of representation and Sin’s got all of our bases covered. Like many artists, Sin’s been drawing since he was a child and it's a talent he inherited from his mother. “...A lot of the cultivating and nourishing of my talent is thanks to my mother. She has always supported my artistic abilities and talents and encouraged me to keep going.” Sin’s mother isn’t the only coach in his corner as he credits his fiance as being his biggest supporter. “He believes in my gifts and supports all the moves I make.” Like a good Beaux should.

Although he might not realize it (he will once his feature is posted), the work Sin does is valuable beyond measure because it gives brown and black Beauxs the opportunity to see themselves in a light that would otherwise go unnoticed. Additionally, the vast majority of Sin’s commissions feature brown and black men of size, which spits directly in the face of anyone believing that physical perfection comes perfectly packaged in a 32-inch waist. “ I believe my work aims to show that men [ cis, trans, etc.] with big and small bodies, light and dark skin, are beautiful, sexy, deserving of love, admiration, praise, and respect.” Sin incorporates his appreciation of weirdness and dark aesthetics into his work because he thinks its cute and believes that “...not everyone has to be this mold or type society tells you to be.” And that is what makes his art important. “My art is important because it does something that a lot of other gay artists fail to do, and that’s to bring representation and diversity to the table. The gay art world/space is dominated by white men and drawings of the gay white buff archetype society deems beautiful.”

Sin is a firm believer in the role erotic art plays within the SGL community, and he doesn’t mince words about it. “We see the display and representation of heterosexual individuals in almost every aspect of society.”, he says, “We see this all the time and with exception of those against all things sex rated, it's out there and praised. However, when it comes to queer based sex and erotic themes, it’s taboo or looks down upon by people outside of our community.”

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This is not only something that’s widely known but THE reason we were so thirsty to feature Sin as this month’s Black, Gay & Gifted. Sure, Tom of Finland’s art is amazing, but there were very few of us to be found within his features, and those who were featured appeared to have been featured to satisfy some BBC, ethnic fetish. Sin is no stranger to this reality and such, he’s totally aware of how critical his work is. “My art is important because I am trying [...] show that there is more out there. Another important aspect of my art is body positivity for ALL bodies small, big, and everyone else in between.” Sin sees his role as an artist as one that promotes representation, diversity and as one that brings love to the table.

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While we’re almost certain that you won’t find anything similar to the type of art Sin does, he’s not without his influences, and he’s not shy about naming names. There are “...almost too many to list. Jiraiya is a gay Japanese artist who draws a lot of buff, chubby and big Asian men.” Jiraiya, who was influenced by the artwork of the openly gay manga artist Gengoroh Tagame, specializes in pin-up art featuring men with large and muscular builds. He was one of the first openly gay manga artists to us digital illustration and is noted for his hyperreal art. “Lucky Sanford is another favorite. He has a comic book/cartoon type of style that I am obsessed with.” Another artist Sin draws inspiration from is Astrazero, an alternative freelance artist, singer, and songwriter from British Columbia, Canada. “He does a lot of stuff with dark, aesthetic vibes, and that is right up my alley.” Sin also gives credit to the cute cartoony style of Beefcakeboss and the dramatic, texture-heavy Ryanheart. “His use of color, dramatic lighting and textures, it's so good.” There are, of course, a few more artists Sin cites as being influential but he doesn’t just rely on them as he states that he’s also influenced by movies, television, social media, and pop culture.

Many artists might shy away from answering questions about their favorite pieces, but Sin is an artist of a different breed. “Honestly every piece I create is something I love.” He says, “I try to pour my all into my work.” Sins favorite piece of his own work is of a vampire. “I am obsessed with vampire ANYTHING. I love the whole lore and mythology of vampires.” Sin enjoys vampire related movies, television shows, and books, but what’s most important to him is the aesthetic associated with vampires. “It's a little weird, but a good looking vampire, covered in blood…!” One of the things he enjoys most about his work is the resolve that comes with knowing that it stands out when compared to the work of other artists.“I like that my work features and represents the [full] spectrum of men of color.”

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Sin’s dream project sounds like something he should start working on immediately, as anyone who has taken the time to view his artwork knows how lit it would be if he had the opportunity to commission a series of action figures and statuettes. “I think it would make as a great gay novelty pice to have for people who are into gay pieces of art”. Another dream project for Sin would be to develop an app or a “Sims meets Dream Daddy” like game that would feature characters similar to the ones he draws. “That would be a dream!” he says. A venture such as this would be right up his alley as it would allow him to do the thing he likes doing most as an artist, creating. Sin enjoys creating as it allows him the chance to make whatever he wants, however he wants, and whenever he wants. “The notion that I can think of an idea and make it come to life is amazing to me. That freedom to express, create, and bring my ideas to life is addicting and almost therapeutic.”

From the outside looking in, Sin sweats success. His commissions are drawing a lot of attention and allowing others to see their beauty in themselves. However, as much praise as he’s received for his commissions, he’s no stranger to doubt. “I want to give up a lot. As much as I love art, art is me. It’s all I know. It’s all I am good at.” He sometimes finds himself wondering whether or not he should abandon his 9 to 5 and make his art his career. “ I doubt my stuff all the time. Then I get messages from people thanking me for creating the art that I do, and they tell me how much it means to them to see themselves represented in a medium that doesn’t often represent them.” He relies on and appreciates the support he receives from his fans and fiance. “It keeps me going.” However close he may have been to giving up, he has yet to quit on himself. That’s probably because he’s focused less on self-doubt and more on success. “ Success to me is being able to live comfortably while being able to make art for a living to provide for those closest to me.” he says. “I would love to be known, to have my art everywhere and all of those things, but none of those things happened.”

Yet. He probably meant to say, ‘yet’, as he’s launched a humble, but tremendously successful line of merchandise- and the streets are definitely talking. “The response to my clothing has been amazing! I am constantly getting messages from people saying they bought a shirt or two, or that they bought some for someone they love.” The bulk of Sin’s merch has a thick theme, and it's all about love and appreciation for the bigger boned Beaux. “ A lot of people don’t feel big bodies are sexy or they’re too concerned with what society says” This means little to Sin, because he knows what we know, and that’s that thick is in, and it's here to stay. “Love the skin you are in and fuck what anyone else has to say!”

If Sin’s work has nothing else, it has sex appeal, and we aren’t shy about saying that his work is enough to light the loins of almost anyone who views it. “That’s so cool that these little made up characters and the commissions I take on can derive that kind of response out of people. It’s interesting and awesome!” As far as the length of time that goes into completing one of his sexually charged pieces, Sin says that it depends on the subject and theme. “ My longest process is the sketching and coming up with a concept. I know some artists can do stuff in minutes or hours, but not me.” Sin balances his craft between his hectic work and school schedule, but he always manages to get things done. He’s currently working on producing more art and is hoping to release an illustration book which will feature his unseen work. “ I am also working on releasing a mystery box people can get...or sort of monthly subscription kinda thing. It will have things like prints, buttons, stickers, shirts etc”.  Readers can find his work on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumbler under the @icametosin handle. He’s still working on his website but can still take orders via social media or via email (icametosin@gmail.com), so don’t be a stranger.

The SGL community is rife with talent, and we’re always here to do our part in showcasing the talents and abilities of our brown and black Beaux brothers. Sin is certainly no Touko Laaksonem, but that’s what makes him, and the work he does so amazing. Long gone are the days when we look at erotic art and discover that none of the shapes, sizes, and colors represent us as we are; because now, in 2019 and beyond, we will be able to credit Sin for his body positive advocacy through art as he serves to be the counterpart Laaksonem never lived to see. Although we’re certain he’d be beyond himself with envy.

Jeremy Carter