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Tom of Finland

For the Record

LOS ANGELES, at David Kordansky Gallery
17th January – 7th March, 2015

The cover boys on Tom of Finland catalogues solicited visitors from outside the exhibition Early Work 1944-1972, offering something of a false promise. From these catalogues, Tom’s 1980s illustrations cruise in all of their pictorial glory—fully realized fantasy Adonises confronting the viewer with the eventual telos of the artist’s physique renderings: chiseled studs in leather biker caps, with groins swelling in denim baskets and buoyant bottoms bouncing.

The show’s 15 early works on paper—most exhibited for the first time—serve as a profoundly dynamic historiography of postwar gay sensibilities. Their preening, posing figures reflect 30 very important years of gay life, spanning from the underground lifestyle of the 1940s to the countercultural gay liberation movement that Tom’s musclemen most often represent. Tom (born Touko Laaksonen) began publishing his drawings in periodicals like Physique Pictorial in the late 1950s, eventually becoming the best-known creator of homoerotic and fetish art in the world.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), T.V.-Repair (Panel 1 of 21)), 1972, pen, ink, gouache and cut-and-pasted photo on paper,  each 17¼ by 14¼ inches, #88.77, © 1972 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), T.V.-Repair (Panel 1 of 21), 1972, pen, ink, gouache and cut-and-pasted photo on paper, each 17¼ by 14¼ inches, © 1972 Tom of Finland Foundation

The show’s pièce de résistance was the 21-panel strip T.V.-Repair(1972), depicting one bored stroker’s industrious summoning of a “Tom’s T.V.” repairman (from the phonebook) and the dexterous angles at which this tradesman goes to dutifully render his services. Detailed in grayscale gouache and ink, the panels pop with an advertiser’s flair; in fact, the sequence was created in the final year of Tom’s employ in advertising, before he committed to his artistic work full-time. Tom places posters of his own illustrations around the john’s domestic interior, a playful self-endorsement and a masterstroke of world creation. Yet in this macho kama sutra, there’s a disarming sensitivity in the artist’s representations of consent, in the gestures and mechanics of homosexual intercourse.

On an adjacent wall, the earliest of Tom’s works evinced a startlingly divergent set of gay signifiers from this familiar iconography. Rendered in 1944, these “preparatory sketches” depict homosexual figures with stylings representative of the era—coiffed hair, berets and ascots collide with the artist’s first envisionings of virile erections. One exposed subject is far more ephebe than muscleman. He smiles sweetly as a boyish trick works him with both hands. Another figure is positively effeminate; with collar upturned, he throws us a camp glance, arms planted defiantly on both hips, while a compatriot flicks his tongue across his protruding phallus.

In the work of the 1960s, Tom develops the impeccable graphite control that defines his best-known drawings. He was a master draftsman. That skill transforms isolated body parts into orgiastic offerings at a carnal smorgasbord. Yet even the fetishism offered in these 1960s drawings—by way of riding boots, military garb and circus singlets—is far more sweet or cordial than the impenetrable sheen of the later Tom of Finland musclemen. The popularity of those later poster boys was achieved through a pitch-perfect blend of draftsmanship and advertising aesthetics; their flamboyant masculinity is total, fetishistic, commercial. Here, however, boys romp and play, and Tom finds his way through a furtive period of gay codification into a permissive culture receptive to his fantasias.

By Bradford NordeenArt_in_America

 

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Patrick Staff, “The Foundation” | 4th July | Bristol, UK

Events of Interest

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PATRICK STAFF, The Foundation (film still), 2015 . Courtesy the artist.

PATRICK STAFF, The Foundation (Film still), 2015 . Courtesy the artist.

The Foundation is a new film installation by Patrick Staff exploring queer intergenerational relationships negotiated through historical materials. The film combines footage shot at Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles — home to the archive of the erotic artist and gay icon and a community of people that care for it — with choreographic sequences shot within a specially constructed set.

The legacy of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991), better known as Tom of Finland, spans multiple generations; his work made a considerable impact on masculine representation and imagery in post-war gay culture. The Foundation was established in 1984 by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner to preserve his vast catalogue of homoerotic art, whilst endeavouring to — to quote the organisation’s website — ‘educate the public to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.’ Today, Durk runs the organisation and lives in the house, along with a handful of other employees and artists.

Rather than focusing on Tom of Finland’s work, Staff’s film evokes the Foundation as a set of relations. He explores how a collection is formed and constituted; the communities that produce and are produced by a body of work; and ideas of intergenerational relationships and care. Through observational footage of the house, its collections and inhabitants, the Foundation is revealed as a domestic environment, a libidinal space, archive, office and community centre; a private space which is also the home of a public-facing organisation and the source of a widely dispersed body of images.

Staff foregrounds his own identity and his personal dialogue with the different communities of the foundation to consider how ideas of intergenerational inheritance and exchange are complicated by gender identity and presentation; in this context, of a younger trans person in an environment dominated by the overtly masculine, male identity of an older generation. Documentary footage of the Foundation is intercut with a series of staged scenes. The set incorporates aspects of the building’s architecture and purpose, operating within the register of experimental theatre. In these sequences, featuring his interactions with an older actor, Staff uses choreography and props to explore the body as a site for the construction and deconstruction of subjectivities. The language of the stage set is extended by Staff’s new sculptural works, commissioned for this exhibition, which make use of materials designed to construct the image of an exterior.

The Foundation is co-commissioned by Spike Island, Bristol; Chisenhale Gallery, London; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; and Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. Co-produced by Spike Island, Bristol and Chisenhale Gallery, London.

With thanks to Tom of Finland Foundation. The Foundation is supported by Arts Council England Grants for the Arts, The Elephant Trust and the Genesis Prize.

Patrick Staff
Staff (b. 1987) is a British artist based in London and Los Angeles who works with video, installation, performance and publishing. He frequently collaborates with other artists, dancers, historians and public participants creating malleable frameworks for socially engaged research mediated by moving image.

Patrick Staff and Durk Dehner in TOM's studio.

Patrick Staff and Durk Dehner in TOM’s studio.

Patrick Staff visited Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, an archive devoted to the work and legacy of the legendary homoerotic artist, for the first time in the summer of 2012.

He was expecting to find the usual, sober atmosphere of a depository. What he discovered there instead was so removed from his expectations that he felt compelled to create something out of the visit.

When the artist returned to London, he couldn’t stop thinking about the Foundation. So, he began to sketch out a plan for a film. Taking a year, Patrick would go back to Los Angeles, ensconcing himself within the close-knit gay men’s leather community at “TOM House” in the Los Angeles hills. During that time he tried to understand his relationship with the place and the community living there, deciding he wouldn’t make something as straightforward as a documentary.

The resulting work is The Foundation, a thirty minute film of footage of the daily activities at Tom of Finland Foundation (the place, the collection, the office, the community spaces) that considers Tom’s influence on subsequent generations of gay men, how legends are created and their heritage curated. The Foundation premièred at Chisenhale Gallery, London.

Through 20th September 2015
Tuesday to Sunday, 11a to 5p
133 Cumberland Road

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Tom of Finland | Through 23 August | New York

Events of Interest

CRITICS’ PICKS
CURRENT PICK / MUST SEE

ARTISTS SPACE EXHIBITIONS
38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1976, Graphite on paper, 12” x 9”, Gift from artist, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #88.77, © 1976 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1976, Graphite on paper, 12” x 9”, Gift from artist, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection #88.77, © 1976 Tom of Finland Foundation

The subtitle of the Tom of Finland exhibition currently at Artists Space, The Pleasure of Play, points to a key aspect of the artist’s work: its fundamental cheerfulness. Tom, who admired the work of Paul Cadmus and Norman Rockwell alike, gave his homoerotic drawings of well-muscled men in uniform (and in various states of undress) a subtly wholesome bent. He once vowed, “My men were going to be proud and happy men.” His young bucks’ cocks are mammoth, but often their good-natured grins are bigger. The highly repressive decades during which Tom’s work developed could not stem his innate sex-positivity.

This two-part exhibition, the largest to date in the US (where he first became known in the mid-1950s through his drawings for the Los Angeles quarterly Physique Pictorial), features nearly two hundred drawings, hung loosely by medium and theme rather than chronology, and an even greater number of reference collages—mass-media clippings arranged by type that helped guide the prominent cleft chins and flared-thigh jodhpurs that defined Tom’s hypermasculine ideal. Early gouaches from the mid-1940s feature urbane rakes whose illicit behavior is only occasionally explicit; but soon thereafter, Tom provided close-up views of every possible combination of orifice and appendage, as modeled by bikers, sailors, loggers, and cowboys. A standout in the main exhibition is a twenty-part 1977 series starring Tom’s recurring leather-daddy character, Kake, whose cruising instigates an orgy that grows one by one with a stream of onlookers turned joiners. It’s remarkable, not least because Tom rendered the profusion of compound convexities—nipples, biceps, asses, abs—in the unforgiving cross-hatching of pen and ink. His skill in graphite is no less extraordinary: Portraits made in the ’80s seem lit from within, all oiled skin and gleaming leather. But it’s a surreal intergalactic image that endures, providing a suitable analogy for Tom’s global effect on gay culture. In it, a brawny, mustachioed Nordic man penetrates planet Earth in smiling ecstasy.

By Claire Lehmannartforum

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“The Flamboyant Life and Forbidden Art of George Quaintance” | 3rd July | LA

Events of Interest

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When it comes to mid-century homoeroticism, one name comes to mind—Tom of Finland. His overtly homoerotic art defined a pre-Stonewall era, when overt gay art was not only not in vogue but flat-out illegal. Yet Finland and his contemporaries—Harry Bush and Etienne, among others—had a forerunner. George Quaintance, the 1940s and ’50s illustrator whose work will be on display with that of Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland; artists who explored the limits of the male physique before others dared to. Tom of Finland in his early career, in fact, aspired to become as good an artist as Quaintance.

GEORGE QUAINTANCE, TOM OF FINLAND, BOB MIZER (Details) Copyright held by the artists.

GEORGE QUAINTANCE, TOM OF FINLAND, BOB MIZER (Details) Copyright held by the artists.

One of the most invaluable resources was Tom of Finland Foundation, which held a large number of oils by Quaintance and it’s president and cofounder, Durk Dehner, who tracked down the last residence of Quaintance’s partner, Victor Garcia, and found Quaintance’s lifelong scrapbooks in a carport in Hollywood. Bob Mainardi and Trent Dunphy of The Magazine in San Francisco graciously made available their many original sketches, physique photos and various ephemera related to Quaintance, as well.

Before dying of heart failure in 1957, Quaintance’s work usually appeared in magazines that celebrated the male physique, including Body Beautiful, Demi-Gods and Physique Pictorial—publications that skirted tight content regulations by ostensibly appealing to bodybuilders and others with an acceptable and “healthy” interest in the male physique. His oil paintings featured full-color semi-nudes, pushing not only the homoerotic bounds of acceptability but the edges of polite society in the ’40s and ’50s. His painting Dashing was featured on the very first cover of Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial.

That same year, Tom of Finland’s first drawing appeared on a Physique Pictorial cover—a clear passing of the torch to the next generation. Dian Hanson, TASCHEN editor, states “No one worked in oil on canvas like Quaintance did, in the scale and with the facility he did, in the ’40s. Tom of Finland was a fantastic graphite, and pen & ink artist, however he produced less in color.”

Quaintance and his highcamp erotic art existed in a demi-monde of borderline legality. His subjects also veered from the mainstream, featuring many aspects common in the West. Spaniard and Mexican bullfighters and religious symbols populate his work, along with traditional oil paintings of cowboys and stereotypical masculine Western figures.

Quaintance was not a prolific painter, only producing 55 canvases during his lifetime. TASCHEN released a book of Quaintance’s art back in 2010, but the objective was always to spotlight the L.A.-based artist in an exhibition. Hanson recommends an in-person visit. “The results were a beautifully produced, large format book. It did justice to the work, but there’s nothing like seeing these big canvases in person!”

READ
GEORGE QUAINTANCE – THE FIRST GAY CELEBRITY
BY RICHARD HAWKINS

TASCHEN is famous for books like Quaintance, The Complete Reprint of Physique Pictorial, Bob’s World and numerous titles on Tom of Finland, but also for their stunning Collector’s Editions. In the other half of the gallery every Collector’s Edition they’ve ever published is on view.

8070 Beverly Boulevard, 90048

 

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I’m A Cruiser: Tom of Finland’s Subcultural Smut At Artists Space

Events of Interest, For the Record

As the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage this week, everyone on the Twitters was declaring #LoveWins. Well, maybe, but let’s remember that love doesn’t just win in chapels and courthouses. Love can also win in sex clubs and bathhouses, in parks and public restrooms. Like John Waters says, I miss perverts! Well, what better way to celebrating sleaze with the father of hypermasculine homoeroticism himself: Tom of Finland.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1967, Graphite on paper, Private Collection, Sweden © 1967 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1967, Graphite on paper, Private Collection, Sweden © 1967 Tom of Finland Foundation

The most comprehensive exhibition of Tom of Finland’s gloriously glory-hole-driven work to date, Artists Space fills their two locations with Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play. With a winding exhibition layout that resembles the labyrinth-like architecture of sex clubs or the Ramble, The Pleasure of Play titillates, overstimulates and overwhelms with Tom of Finland’s seminal subcultural and subversive illustrations.

Ok, let’s be honest, Tom’s work can be…well…intimidating. With military uniforms, barrel chests, bubble butts and yes, enormous dicks, Tom’s characters can err toward the Ubermensch fascist. And certainly, turning every corner in the exhibition to wander into a new pleasure bacchanal in a jail cell, park or motorcycle rally is a unique viewing experience.

However, due to the almost unbelievable span of the exhibition, The Pleasure of Play reveals the work’s significance to gay culture not only as spank-bank material but also as a means to depict relationships–sexual or otherwise–between men.

Born Touko Laaksonen, Tom was given his recognizable name by another pioneer in eroticism – Bob Mizer who published Tom’s work in his influential muscle mag Physique Pictorial. While Tom was drawing muscle men for Mizer’s publication, he was also holding down a straight job at Helsinki’s McCann Erickson, an ad agency you might recall from Mad Men. Related: you know that queen Sal was lusting after Tom’s drawings in his office when he wasn’t dancing to Bye Bye Birdie.

With his first exhibition of his work at Stompers, a West Village boot store, Tom became one of the most seminal figures in gay culture, almost singlehandedly inspiring fetish aesthetics that continue today. With his drawings, Tom developed or at least, cemented the stylistic markers of hypermasculinity from leather jackets to military caps and harnesses. Just look around at the Folsom Street East  or go to The Eagle and you’ll still see men dressed exactly like Tom’s illustrations.

With the extensive and expansive nature of The Pleasure of Play, viewers can follow the consistent aesthetic that Tom pursued throughout his career. Despite the wide range of dates, it would be almost impossible without looking at the wall labels to discern which year many of the illustrations were made. Despite the enormous political changes and events that occurred from the 1950s to 1980s from Stonewall to ACT UP, Tom’s characters largely remain the same: an unwavering fantasy that continues to inspire men today. Just look for the Tom of Finland tattoos.

However, some of the most interesting works in the show were the drawings that did not resemble the large majority of his oeuvre. For example, an early gouache from 1947 more closely resembles Leyendecker’s Arrow Collar Man (not to say that also isn’t queer in it’s own way) than his own later work.

Perhaps my favorite part of the two-space exhibition was the smaller show in Artists Space Books & Talks on Walker Street, which showcases Tom’s inspirational collages. Cutting out pages of print advertising, newspapers and magazines, as well as gay periodicals, Tom grouped imagery of different men together by type from leathermen to motorcycles to mustaches and uniforms. On some of the collages, Tom also drew directly onto the collage materials, visibly developing his unforgettable style. Studying the mainstream print illustrations, Tom then transgressively transformed them into his own subcultural vision.

Despite the aesthetic aggression in Tom’s illustrations and other works throughout the exhibition, the illustrations also contain an earnest tenderness, revealing the possibilities of queer relationships. Depicting an outlaw relation between men that, at the time of his drawings’ creation, had to be coded, secretive and hidden away, Tom’s illustrations became a means for men to experience not only sexuality and hypermasculinity, but relationships between men.

By Emily ColucciFilthy

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George Quaintance Joins Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer in Sexy New Exhibition

Events of Interest

The mid-century’s most popular physique painter will have his work on display beginning 2nd July.

GEORGE QUAINTANCE (American, 1902-1957), Gloria, 1953, Oil on canvas

GEORGE QUAINTANCE (American, 1902-1957), Gloria, 1953, Oil on canvas, 40″ x 32″, © George Quaintance, Courtesy of Taschen

When it comes to mid-century homoeroticism, one name comes to mind—Tom of Finland. His overtly homoerotic art defined a pre-Stonewall era, when overt gay art was not only not in vogue but flat-out illegal. Yet Finland and his contemporaries—Harry Bush and Etienne, among others less celebrated—had a precedent. George Quaintance, the ’40s and ’50s illustrator who set the parameters of gay art for nearly a half century, and whose work will be on display at the Taschen Gallery beginning July 2, explored the limits of the male physique before other artists dared to.

Taschen released a book of Quaintance’s art back in 2010, but the objective was always to spotlight the L.A.-based artist with his own show. Speaking about Quaintance’s output, Dian Hanson, editor of the coffee table book, states the paintings are “so big and impressive, and culturally vital, it was always intended to give them a gallery show.”

Before dying of heart failure in 1957, Quaintance’s work usually appeared in magazines that celebrated the male physique, including Body Beautiful, Demi-Gods and Physique Pictorial—publications that skirted tight content regulations by ostensibly appealing to bodybuilders and others with an acceptable and “healthy” interest in the male physique. His oil paintings featured full-color semi-nudes, pushing not only the homoerotic bounds of acceptability but the edges of polite society in the ’40s and ’50s.

“There really wasn’t anyone doing what Quaintance was doing in the 1940s and early ’50s,” says Hanson. “His painting Dashing was featured on the very first cover of Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial, and Mizer used his work on covers right up until his death,” over a decade before the modern gay rights movement found its mainstream footing.

“That same year, Tom of Finland’s first drawing appeared on a Physique Pictorial cover—a clear passing of the torch to the next generation,” she says. “No one worked in oil on canvas like Quaintance did, in the scale and with the facility he did, in the ’40s. Tom of Finland was a fantastic graphite, and pen & ink artist, but he did less in color.”

Quaintance’s subjects also veered from the mainstream, featuring many aspects common in the West. Spaniard and Mexican bullfighters and religious symbols populate his work, along with traditional oil paintings of cowboys and stereotypical masculine Western figures.

Despite his outsized influence, Quaintance was not a prolific artist, only producing 55 oil paintings during his lifetime, leaving a very potent seed of creativity but a dearth of material for progenitors to follow.

Creating the show at the Taschen Gallery involved tracking down the remaining Quaintance paintings on the market. “Fortunately, the small circle of collectors knew each other, and there were rumors about who might have what and where missing links might be. I was surprised how secretive much of it was—people not wanting their names used, paintings hidden in closets, artifacts here and there,” says Hanson.

One of the most invaluable resources was Tom of Finland Foundation, which held a large number of oils by Quaintance. “The Foundation tracked down the last residence of Quaintance’s partner, Victor Garcia, and found Quaintance’s lifelong scrapbooks in a carport in Hollywood, and Bob Mainardi and Trent Dunphy of The Magazine in San Francisco, who own many original sketches, physique photos and various ephemera related to Quaintance.”

Taschen’s Quaintance tomb ($100, 168 pp.) has many exclusive and pristine prints of the painter’s groundbreaking work, but while Hanson spent a long time putting together the edition, she recommends an in-person visit.

“The results were a beautifully produced, large format book. It did justice to the work, but there’s nothing like seeing these big canvases in person!” Come July, anyone in Los Angeles can see Quaintance’s beautiful, detail-oriented and groundbreaking work the way it was produced.

The Art of George Quaintance
2nd July
Taschen Gallery

By Patrick RosenquistFrontiers

 

 

 

 

 

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“Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play” review – definitely not the marrying kind

Events of Interest, For the Record

Artists Space, New York
The bulging muscles, throbbing members and shiny leather of men the illustrator drew defined the sexual tastes of generations of gay men – and expressed not sexual equality, but liberation.

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Installation view from Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play. © Tom of Finland Foundation Photograph: Daniel Pérez/Artists Space

 

Marriage is “a keystone of our social order”, Anthony Kennedy wrote this week in the supreme court decision legalising gay marriage in the United States. Sex, however, is something else. New York is getting set for a Pride weekend like none other, and the justified elation with which the city has greeted the Obergefell decision has made equality the theme of the celebrations.

But gay liberty is just as important as gay equality – and liberty, especially sexual liberty, is a more powerful and dangerous idea.

I was reminded of that on my recent visits to Artists Space, which is hosting a major show of the art of Tom of Finland, a cult illustrator of ithyphallic musclemen, motorcycle fiends and leather gods. The exhibition, spanning two spaces, is the largest showcase ever of Tom’s art: there are more than 180 drawings, featuring more boots than you’ll find in Hermès. At first glance they may seem to be nothing but pornographic fantasias. Yet Tom has had a devoted following among fine artists, especially Raymond Pettibon and the late Mike Kelley, and he played a key role in the dissemination of gay imagery and the fashioning of a nascent gay pride. His men might not be your type. But look with the eye of a historian, and Tom’s drawings appear much weightier than your average smut.

Tom of Finland was the nom de pornographe of Touko Laaksonen, who lived from 1920 to 1991. He was drafted into the Finnish army, then allied with the Germans against the invading Soviets – and although he unambiguously condemned Nazism throughout his career, he had a not altogether wholesome taste for Wehrmacht soldiers in jackboots. (Most of his early sexual experiences were with Germans.) After the war he went into advertising, and by day he crafted campaigns of happy heterosexual couples buying soft drinks and laundry detergent. By night, he was otherwise occupied.

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Privates on parade: Untitled, 1947, © Tom of Finland Foundation Photograph: Daniel Pérez/Artists Space

His early colour gouaches, a highlight of this show, are daintier and camper than his more familiar butch look. The men wear trilbies and overcoats as they grope one another’s groins or simply ogle from the sidelines. In one extraordinarily sweet painting on paper from 1947, a sailor and a man in a bowtie are simply dancing, one’s hand on the other’s waist, their eyes locked as they sway across the floor. Only later, in the 1960s, did the bodies harden. The quiff gives way to the short-back-and-sides; lounge suits get supplanted by rawhide and jeans. Tom followed shifts in ideals of masculinity, though he crafted them as well. Have a gander at the website for any gay leather emporium – for research purposes only, of course! – and you can find breeches advertised as providing “the Tom of Finland look”. For a not small number of gay men, Tom provided a roadmap to self-definition and desire.

Tom’s sexual iconography made heavy use of archetypes: individuals were less important than categories, each one with a strict (and tight) uniform. Clothing, so key to gay signaling in the years before decriminalisation, plays a central role in Tom’s art; men hint at each other via neckerchiefs and tight trousers, then boots and leather, and even though everyone is fucking almost no-one is nude. In a 20-drawing sequence from 1977, a man kitted out in leather arrives at a verdant, homosocial pleasure garden; the sign outside, a little redundantly in Tom’s world, reads “MEN ONLY”. He espies a lumberjack on a bench, boots knee high, fly undone. They start going at it, only to be joined by a jockish type in baseball cap and tank top; then those three are joined by a beret-wearing soldier; then a sailor shows up, and then a cowboy – in chaps, naturally – and on it goes in a roundelay of oral and anal and manual exploration. None are named, none have backstories. (Maybe a few of them are even married!) Dignity and decency are neither here nor there. Only pleasure matters, and in Tom’s garden of delights pleasure is the highest moral virtue.

What pushes Tom’s drawings beyond pornography – and they are certainly that, in part – into something more enduring is that epicurean commitment: in the Tom of Finland universe, (homo)sexual pleasure isn’t just fun, it’s right. That was a bold position to take in an oppressive climate. Pornography was illegal in Finland when Laaksonen began drawing his cops and robbers. Homosexuality itself was illegal too; it was decriminalized in 1971, and “promotion of homosexuality” remained an offence for decades after. Tom was unfazed. His commitment to guiltless, strings-free, unadulterated pleasure – the pleasure of bodies, the pleasure of freedom – is expressed not only in the wealth of phalluses and orifices, but in the smiles of his motorcyclists and soldiers. Everyone is smiling. Whether active or passive, whether alone or in baroque combination, sex is a joy. Prisoners and wardens are grinning as they get it on through the bars of a jail cell. Even the guys in the sadomasochistic scenes are beaming – one chap is chained to a pole by a certain part of his anatomy, and couldn’t be happier about it.

My job is to think about these images as works of art, not to say whether this or that does or doesn’t turn me on. But I will confess that from my perch the smiles are the sexiest, as well as the most subversive, features of Tom’s drawings, while the dirtier aspects can be a bit repetitive. The male sex organ is depicted not so much as a body part, but more as a fetish object in its own right – a thing independent of the male body, worthy of intense, delirious veneration. The penises have lives of their own, protruding from Tom’s leathermen and soldiers as sticky, fleshy totems of insubordination. The caudal sides of all these men, on the other hand, are depicted with much less care. Throughout his career, Tom drew bottoms in a cursory, even cartoonish fashion – either cannonball tight, or else lazily sketched as a whisper of curved lines. The sailor in the pleasure park, depicted from the back as he spies on the foursome under way, has almost no buttocks at all, whereas his colossal member can be seen through his thighs: a weird, anatomically aberrant representation.

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The pictures that inspired Tom of Finland, collected in the exhibition. © Tom of Finland Foundation Photograph: Daniel Pérez/Artists Space

Why the heavy-handedness with knobs and the inattention to asses? Perhaps because, later in his career, Tom was in competition with photographic pornography. When he started out, his illegal drawings were one of the few sources of sexual titillation for men still in the closet; later on, his oversized phalluses offered a means to distinguish his drawings from an avalanche of dirty images. A revealing supplement to this show features Tom’s “reference pages”, sheets of source material that he clipped from both porn mags and general interest titles. They are glued down in strict typological arrangements, like a perverted version of Gerhard Richter’s Atlas. The smiles of Finnish athletes and catalogue models, soon to be redeployed in Tom’s subversive purposes, cover dozens of pages. Cases are filled with cut-outs of bikers, soldiers, and indeed those jackbooted Nazis. One Wehrmacht officer is seen from behind, looking over his shoulder in an almost coquettish pose. Another is seated on stairs and smiling; Tom took a pen to that photo, and drew him stroking his penis.

The Artists Space show is right not to shy away from Tom’s fascination with the Wehrmacht, or the endurance of a Nazi aesthetic in gay men’s later fetishisation of leather and boots. It’s an enduring dilemma: back in 1974, Susan Sontag argued that “rightwing movements, however puritanical and repressive the realities they usher in, have an erotic surface”. Yet in Tom’s vision desire is so omnipotent, and pleasure such a moral imperative, that it has room for even the very people who say they want to exterminate you.

 Just pleased to see you: Tom of Finland’s phallic supermen. © Tom of Finland Foundation Photograph: Daniel Pérez/Artists Space

Just pleased to see you: Tom of Finland’s phallic supermen. © Tom of Finland Foundation Photograph: Daniel Pérez/Artists Space

And perhaps that is Tom’s lesson for us boys revelling in the supreme court’s landmark decision: that even though marriage is a fundamental marker of civil equality, it reinforces rather than upsets the makeup of society as such. Pleasure can be a much more radical force, and one still worth fighting for. Marriage makes you a citizen; desire makes you free.

Tom of Finland: the Pleasure of Play is at Artists Space, New York until 23 August.

Guardian By 

 

 

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Helsinki Pride | 27th-28th June

Events of Interest

HP

The Biggest Culture and Human Rights Event in Finland

ToFS_from-Marko

Saturday 27th
Helsinki Pride Parade
Place: Starts from Senaatintori Square and continues as a park party at Kaivopuisto.
Don’t miss the colorful parade with great atmosphere!

If you want to march with friends for TOM you can join our crew. We’ll have the big duo Tom of Finland banner. We meet in Senate Square near the statue starting at 12.00, and the procession starts at 13:00.

Polish your leathers! Let us be proud of ourselves, each other and the beauty and message of TOM!

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TOM's Club

TOM’s Club

Saturday 27th
Pride Fetish Night
Place: Korjaamo Vintti, Töölönkatu 51
21.00 – 03.00
Dresscode: leather, rubber, uniform and sports (all ECMC dresscodes).
Men only, K-18.
Entrance fee without valid ECMC card is €8.

Sunday 28th
Pride Fetish Picnic
Place: Pikku-Mäntymäki hills just behind Freedom Bar (Mäntymäki 2).
14.00
No dresscode, but fetish is welcomed.
Bring your own picnic food and beverages and meet like-minded guys.

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The Erotic Revolution

Friends of Tom

Walking into the afternoon session on iconic gay artist Tom of Finland, it is impossible to avoid the orange glare from smartphone screens as delegates all around me check Grindr. Such is the ubiquity of gay culture in 2015 – thanks, in so small part, to TOM (aka Touko Laaksonen), who quietly inspired a global movement from his house in a cold, lonely corner of Finland.

No shame, no guilt

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, Graphite on paper. © 1977 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, Graphite on paper, © 1977 Tom of Finland Foundation

Durk Dehner is the cofounder of Tom of Finland Foundation, and was also Touko’s partner in life, love and business – so he’s as close to an expert on the subject as you are going to find. What made Tom of Finland different from other homoerotic art, he says, was that each and every drawing was imbued with a sense of pride; “no shame, no guilt… naked, as nature created us.”

Touko’s salacious artwork, bursting with images of steamy hyper-masculinity, was inspired by a stint in the army (surprise, surprise) and his own proclivity towards voyeurism. And while its primary function was to get viewers hot under the collar, it also had a long-lasting, liberating effect.

Suddenly, the isolated gay boys living in rural Montana were seeing depictions of homosexuals as manly, confident and powerful, as opposed to the reviled sissies of mainstream media. All they had to do was buy Physique Pictorial, or any other gay rag masquerading as a fitness publication, to see themselves in a new light, which in turn influenced the way others perceived them.

Hearts and minds (and butts)

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), © 1987 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, Graphite on paper, © 1987 Tom of Finland Foundation

Art and advertising carry an immense amount of power to influence. As an ad man (he worked for McCann for 17 years), Touko knew this. So when the AIDS crisis began in America in the 1980s, he felt a portion of responsibility; he had been advocating free love, after all. His response was to create images which, in true ‘no shame’ style, got the viewer horny while reminding them to use a condom.

What makes Tom of Finland truly remarkable is not just what it achieved within the gay community; it has also become a known property in pop culture. Nowadays, it’s a brand in its own right; the leatherman image provokes an instant sense of brand recognition.

Dehner runs the foundation as a business out of necessity, but while some have criticised that he is “over-commercialising” Tom’s work through merchandise and magazine spreads, he remains extremely careful when it comes to selecting partners. “I always make sure it’s a company with great creative people, and with gay people,” he says. The most important thing to him is to honour Touko’s memory while continuing to inspire change.

Muscle Mary, full of grace

It’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that civil rights issues like marriage equality wouldn’t be where they are today without the likes of Tom of Finland thrusting himself into popular culture. But, as with any social movement, a backlash is inevitable. This mainstreaming of gay culture has since led to yawn-worthy assimilation, where ‘straight-acting’ is seen as the ideal. That’s not to say Quentin Crisp is the only model of homosexual sensibility, but striving towards integration or even invisibility in a heteronormative world is essentially shirking the legacy of the queer activists who made modern gays’ safe lives possible.

The Tom of Finland iconography is also at least partially responsible for popularising the gym bunny lifestyle which originated in urban California and has since become the prerequisite for any self-respecting homosexual. What began as an expression of pride and healthy self-image has been warped into disdain among many gay men for anybody who isn’t a dysmorphic, muscle-bound, protein powder-obsessed Andrew Christian model.

But that’s a rant for another time. The important takeaway here is Tom’s undeniable legacy and influence; helping an entire generation of gay men accept themselves while challenging stereotypes. Not bad for an ad man with a penchant for gay porn.

ogilvydo-logo_newBy Philip Ellis

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Tom of Finland at the International Festival of Creativity

For the Record, Friends of Tom

21st June, Cannes

Petteri Lillberg, CEO for McCann Helsinki and Durk Dehner, President and Cofounder of Tom of Finland Foundation

Petteri Lillberg, CEO for McCann Helsinki and Durk Dehner, President and Cofounder of Tom of Finland Foundation. Slide of photographs of Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland (1920-1991).

“Pessimists don’t win.”
Lesson 2 from the talk.

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Durk with slide of TOM’s artwork.

Thank you to Petteri & McCann Helsinki, Mark St. Andrew & Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for helping to spread the GLOBAL message of TOM.

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TOM’s Bar @ Faultline

Friends of Tom

Celebration of Tom of Finland
21st June – Father’s Day

2015-06-21_TOMs_Bar_Button_1_and_1-QTR_inch

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11202869_942901332427001_7152369775805723901_nPhotos by Miguel Angel Reyes

CaptureSpecial thanks to ToFF’s Volunteers!

DCF 1.0

FACEBOOK ALBUM

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