FROM ADVERTISING TO GAY EROTICA: THE WORK OF TOM OF FINLAND

15th June 2015, 6:39 am
TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1976, Graphite on paper, © 1976 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991), Untitled, 1976, Graphite on paper, © 1976 Tom of Finland Foundation

The Pleasure of Play, the largest exhibition to date of the work of Tom of Finland, opened at Artists Space. The show spans over six decades worth of work by the artist—dubbed the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images”—featuring everything from his famous drawings to childhood paper dolls, storyboards, and reference images.

Working as an ad executive at McCann Erickson—yes, that McCann Erickson—in Helsinki throughout the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, Tom of Finland lived a double life, creating mainstream print campaigns by day and using the ads as references for his erotic drawings by night. Cut-outs from the ad campaigns he helped create can be seen throughout his reference collages in The Pleasure of Play, a testament to how even the most innocuous of the artist’s work factored into his famously explicit drawings. His published comics in underground gay magazines caught the attention of acclaimed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who would later on go to help the artist get his first major gallery show in New York in 1980.

Mapplethorpe was not the only creative who found inspiration in Tom of Finland’s expansive work. Mike Kelley and Richard Hawkins both developed a relationship with the artist over their love of his work. Vivienne Westwood’s infamous “Cowboys” shirt is rumored to have been inspired by a Tom of Finland drawing (though the fashion and art worlds are both divided over this). Just earlier this year, Eckhaus Latta released a series of limited-edition tees screen printed with some of the artist’s sketches and reference collages.

With drawings just as scandalous today as they were in the 20th century, Tom of Finland, who died in 1991, remains relevant through a fearlessness and no-holds-barred approach to art. Revolution is timeless, and that is what makes Tom of Finland’s work influential in the past, present, and certainly the future.

Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play is showing at Artists Space through August 23

Artists Space
38 Greene Street
New York, NY 10012

Published: 15th June 2015

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