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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Artist-in-residence Mies Mikkonen

Mies Mikkonen is part of Tom of Finland Foundation’s Artist-in-Residence program. In 2011, he made a documentary about Tom of Finland.

I’m interested in creating metaphysical works where the laws of the imagination triumph over the laws of reality. I believe that art is still something that we don’t understand at all and something that probably has been very ill-defined in the past, mostly by art critics and theoreticians, whose minds are in a prison of academic rigidity. Starting from film school I’ve made movies with both fiction and documentary approaches. I’ve also taught and lectured on film, and I’m a regular writer for the Finnish exploitation/arthouse film publication Elitisti.

I have been tackling two projects both in pre-production. The primary one is an unusual documentary film I am going to direct called DREAMS OF THE BLIND. The film, utilizing multiple visual styles and to be shot on several formats, seeks to convey the experience of blind people regaining their sight and seeing inside their dreams. The film will be a very visually oriented one, with voice-over monologues spoken, and the text being based on interviews I have conducted with blind people. The end result seeks not to be a conventional movie, but more like a cinematic equivalent of the Visionary Art movement. Principal photography on the project will start later this year.

The second one is still more in development, and it is a philosophical science fiction feature film that’s to be directed by my mentor, film-maker Maria Ruotsala. So basically my regiment has been to write these two screenplays while I’m here enjoying the California sun – and doing anything else creative that pops into mind, natürlich. TOM House is a Mecca for the connoisseur and all the folks here are terrific.


Mies with his Pixelvision in TOM House.

Currently, before leaving I am creating a short film shot on TOM House for the Foundation’s collection, using the PXL-2000 Pixelvision camera, a toy camcorder from the 1980s, which records B/W moving images into audio cassettes (!). This camera was a flop in its initial release, but has developed a cult reputation starting from the early 1990s with a wildly different demographic than the one it was intended for: experimental and underground film-makers. It seems a fitting instrument to create an homage to the place where I’ve dwelled the past couple o’ months. -MMM