As an artist who has spent a lot of time looking at, thinking about, and making my own collages, I have taken the opportunity as guest co-curator of Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland to introduce a wider and more generous selection of collages by the artists than previously has been exhibited. Some might consider these works to be minor aspects of the artists’ practices. Tom of Finland’s collages were created to be used as image banks and photographic references for his drawings; they were resources from which he may have found inspiration for rendering a handsome face or gathered the details necessary to get the stretch of leather across a thigh just right. Similarly, for Mizer, the photo-collaged catalogue boards were midway points between the production and distribution of his films and photographs. These artifacts were intended to be photographed, printed out, and disseminated as 4x5s. Neither artist, apparently, considered their collages the “real work.”
Tom of Finland’s tactics toward collage have an archaeological or mineralogical aspect. In order to produce these reference pages, the artist must have done a lot of deep digging through magazines, extracting the best and most exemplary chunks of raw beauty from their cultural sod, which were then hewn and polished into the artist’s own kind of multifaceted brilliance. Though Tom of Finland is historicized as someone devoutly subcultural, through his collaged scrapbooks and reference files we see an artist who is still very much a part of the world he had to live in. Rather than engage in the myths and fictions of that world however, he reordered and redirected much of dominant culture’s priorities by reappropriating its images—seeming to cast his own papery movies out of the glut of broadcasts and publications streaming past him.
In one of the collages from his “Faces” reference binder, for example, Tom of Finland included models and other pop-culture icons. Tom of Finland did not feature Che because of his notoriety as the Argentinian rebel, however; the artist included the image because it depicts a strong characteristic face with amazing lips and chin tilted up in such a way that could easily be incorporated into one of the artist’s many cock-worship drawings. Elvis Presley is there, his handsomeness contorted into what looks like torment and/or ecstasy. Muhammad Ali is there, caught grinning as he cruises by. A young and timorous-looking Terence Stamp is (I’m quite sure) giddily thrilled to be there. Marlon Brando, looking distinguished and stately in his Nazi uniform from the film The Young Lions (1958), is featured too.
But Brando is not there to represent a fantasized fetish for cruelty and domination—although, maybe that is one patent aspect—he, Che, and all the other movie-star idols have been kidnapped from the overriding master narratives of mass culture, decontextualized, and forced to make pals out of their porno-mag peers. Each face was included with the sole objective to monopolize on its astounding good looks. It’s a frame of mind that prioritizes desire over anything else and gives great insight into Tom of Finland’s revolutionary perspective of privileging hotness over the demands, mandates, and prescriptions of a culture that considered his desires unthinkable—if not also criminal.
Nonetheless, I have a dilemma. I could spend all day making arguments for how Mizer and Tom of Finland were ahead of their time, valorize them for trudging forth despite innumerable odds, and weave them into a politic of cultural critique and a progressive ushering-in of the many rights and privileges that we seem to be enjoying today, etcetera. But, I am still faced with the fact that Mizer’s mesmerizing photographs of Jim Horn and Dennis Lavia and Johnny Stumps, and Tom of Finland’s sweat-drenched renderings of Kake and Jack, along with his myriad cast of other horny, humpy, leathersex studs, leap forward through time and into the present day, burrow through a miasma of legitimizing discourse, and hit me right where it counts—my crotch. In the end, the work was intended to be blisteringly hot, perhaps with little regard for cultural innovation or transcendence. If this exhibition of the work of these two remarkable artists doesn’t send you right out to find a man—OR 3!—of your own to fool around with, then Bennett and I might have radically missed the mark.