Tallinn photo gallery Fotografiska is hosting an exhibition of artwork by Tom of Finland, the noted homoerotic Finnish artist.
The exhibition, entitled The Darkroom opens an unknown side of Tom of Finland’s art, Fotografiska said in a press release Friday, showcasing his photography as well as his more well-known signature sketches, in what would have been the year of his 100th birthday.
Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen in 1920), was a draftsman, whose subjects often explored excessively masculine, attractive, confident macho-men with extreme swelling muscles and other bodily aspects, dressed in various uniform, leather and rubber gay porn fetish garb, according to the press release.
Tom garnered a cult following within Finland’s gay community, and beyond – Tom spent much time in Los Angeles – at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence in that country.
His photo portraits stem from fairly early on in his career and were developed in his own home darkroom, with output frequently consisting of several references from several different photographs, often of friends and acquaintances of the artist.
One collaboration saw Tom and U.S. photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe taking each other’s pictures, photos that Tom later used to construct Mapplethorpe’s portrait.
Exhibition curator Berndt Arell describes the work as an inspiring journey that is given longing a face, one of showing one’s desire, of being acknowledged and not having to hide who one is.
“Without the photographs I don’t think there would have been a Tom of Finland,” Arell says.
“With the help of his friend Wiki, care was taken to bring the photographs over to Tom House in Los Angeles – a museum/gallery which, besides his own work, exhibits other homoerotic art.
Arell created one of the first Tom of Finland exhibitions in the early 2000s as he, Tom, moved into the mainstream of art.
Tom studied advertising in Helsinki during the late 1930s/1940s, as well as piano and composition at the Sibelius Academy later on.
He also worked as a restaurant and theater pianist, and art director, in the Finnish capital.
Curator of Tom of Finland exhibition: Creates a Positive Example for Gays
INTERVIEW IN ENGLISH
World famous Tom of Finland is a man whose homoerotic drawings changed the world. But in order for these drawings to come about, he had to take hundreds of photos during his years of work. Fotografiska in Tallinn is the first time in the world that these images will reach the general public.
“For the first time ever, I, or anyone who has worked with his photos, am very happy and proud to have found a new angle, a new way of looking at him and his art,” said curator Berndt Arell, the show’s curator.
The exhibition has a total of 130 photographs, mostly of his own. “This is the first time in the world. A new way to look at Touko Laaksonen, who is Tom of Finland.”
The Finnish artist Tom of Finland was born Touko Laaksonen 100 years ago. “Such photographs were not legal in Finland at the time,” Arell explained.
“He had to build a studio and a darkroom for himself, in his apartment. He was always afraid that the police would search for him in the apartment. When he was not drawing, he always hid everything. In everyday life, he always felt the threat.”
He added that the artist destroyed most of the photos so his friends and partners would not be put at risk.
“He was talented with light, with good shadows and interesting depth as if they were three-dimensional. He was a very talented visual artist,” Arell said.
There are also 15 original drawings on display. “You can compare what happened when there was a model in the studio who he photographed and then drew. What he took away and what she added. Of course he added a lot.”
According to Arell, Tom set a positive example for gays at that time. His pictures are always very positive, happy and proud. And they play. It’s funny, like a big boys playground. ”
He admitted that there were not many positive role models at the time. “There were others, but not many.”
Arelli said that much of his material was published, even when it was forbidden. “They could be ordered by mail, on demand. It used to be like the covert Internet. They were sent to a secret address. They were received from the post office.
Editor: Merit Maarits