Tom of Finland The Darkroom
Tom of Finland
The DarkroomApr 30 - Aug 20, 2021
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Fotografiska in collaboration with Tom of Finland Foundation produced The Darkroom, an exciting study in artist Tom of Finland’s (born Touko Laaksonen, 1920 – 1991) life and work process. The exhibition, curated by Berndt Arell, travels from Stockholm to New York in time for Tom of Finland’s 101st birthday. The exhibition consists of photographic portraits which served as reference images for his famed homoerotic drawings. These photographs were confined to Tom of Finland’s home studio and darkroom, displaying them elsewhere would have risked a prison sentence, as homosexuality was criminalized and classified as a mental disorder in his native Finland at the time of this work. Even after a century of Tom of Finland’s birth, there are forces today trying to relegate homosexual desire into dark closets.
Photo: Tom of Finland, Aarno, 1976, Silver Gelatin Print, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1976-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation
Tom of Finland, with his desire and skill, positively portrayed and drew masculine, attractive, confident men in homoerotic poses – dressed in uniforms, leather, rubber and fetish gear – thoroughly challenging contemporary society. At the same time, he was highly regarded by queer folk and members of the Leather/Fetish community. Curator Berndt Arell shares –
This never before shown treasure trove of images gives a deeper insight into how his 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.
Photo: Tom of Finland, Tom & Tom Katt, 1984, Silver Gelatin Print, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1984-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation
About Tom of Finland
Tom of Finland is celebrated internationally for his prolific and positive portrayal of confident gay men. His representational subjects are masculine, attractive, endowed with pronounced muscles and genitalia, and often dressed in uniforms or leather gear. His depictions of queer culture thoroughly challenged contemporary society, and solidified his place as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
Tom grew up in a Finland where homosexuality was punishable by law until 1971 and classified a mental disorder until 1981. Here, he secretly photographed his models as references for his drawings – works that were to become coveted in underground gay culture. With increasing openness in the West, he would later live half the year in Los Angeles where gay freedoms were flourishing, and his art spread across the world.
He took a correspondence course with a marketing and advertising school during the late 1930s and into the mid 1940s, and studied piano and composition at the Sibelius Academy during the 1940s, as well. He also worked as a pianist for restaurants, schools and theatres in Helsinki, as an art director at McCann Helsinki until 1973, and as a full-time artist thereafter.
Photo: Tom of Finland, Untitled, 1977, Graphite on paper, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1977-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation