Date(s) - 31st Jul 2020 - 29th Nov 2020
And it was to darkened places that gay people were referred, even the ones born late in the first half of the 1900s, since their orientation was criminalised and classified as a mental disorder. So Touko Laaksonen, as he was named on his birth certificate, worked for a long time under the radar. The artist that would become world-famous under the name Tom of Finland was called Touko in his homeland by his family, his close friends there called him Tom or Tommi.
Early on he started to take and develop the photographic portraits that he himself called reference-pictures, in his own darkened simple home-studio and darkroom – having them developed elsewhere would be risking a prison sentence. This is where the story of Tom of Finland starts, and now in this exhibition we meet a new unknown side of his work, 100 years after his birth.
“This never before shown treasure trove of images gives a deeper insight into how Tom’s skillfully drawn super-macho men were created. Each drawing could consist of several references from several different photographs. The drawings show the men always full of confidence, and always ready, since Tom of Finland’s art, for him, wasn’t about problematising, but about desire and the right to express it”, says Berndt Arell who curates the exhibition together with Fotografiska’s exhibition producer Jessica Jarl.
Jessica Jarl describes the work with the exhibition as an inspiring journey that’s given longing a face. The longing of showing your desire, of being acknowledged and not having to hide who you are. The exhibition includes unique original photographs, photographic collages, sketches and drawings: all of them created by Tom, where we get to see the entire process from photographs to sketches and finally the finished drawing.
“To Fotografiska, this is a brilliant example of how photography – besides standing on its own – often plays a part in many different kinds of creating. The story of The Darkroom – the first art exhibition where Tom of Finland’s photographs are also being shown – is in many ways a journey through time. From dark hidden rooms or parks, to open, well-lit salons. In some places, strong forces are now pushing this art – and the lifestyles it reflects – back into the darkness. One more reason to lift the importance of free art. And it feels right to have Tom’s voice be heard”, says Jessica Jarl.
Many of the photographs exhibited in The Darkroom show happily posing hunks from Tom’s acquaintance, that functioned as inspiration and references for his drawings: drawings that got shown later in his career at somewhat hidden away galleries, and that spread like wildfire when many famous gay men wanted their portraits done by this unobtrusive Finn. Sometimes they were dressed in suits, sometimes nothing at all. One example is when Tom and Robert Mapplethorpe took each other’s pictures, that Tom later used to draw Mapplethorpe’s portrait.
“Without the photographs I don’t think there would have been a Tom of Finland. Tom took care to bring the photographs over to TOM House in Los Angeles – the museum/archive that, besides his own work, exhibits other erotic art. He also seems to have been carefully removing the nudes we know were shot in his studio, so in almost all the remaining photographs the models are dressed”, says Berndt Arell, who already in the early 2000s created the first exhibition where the focus was on Tom of Finland as a visual artist rather than a pornographic illustrator.
Published: 31st July 2020
Categorised in: Exhibitions - TOM