Tom of Finland is the creator of some of the most iconic and readily recognizable imagery of post-war gay culture. He produced thousands of images beginning in the 1940s, robbing straight homophobic culture of its most virile and masculine archetypes (bikers, hoodlums, lumberjacks, cops, cowboys, and sailors) and recasting them—through deft skill and fantastic imagination—as unapologetic, self-aware, and boastfully proud enthusiasts of gay sex. His most innovative achievement though, worked out in fastidious renderings of gear, props, settings, and power relations inherent therein, was to create the depictions that would eventually become the foundation of an emerging gay Leather culture. Tom imagined the leather scene by drawing it; real men were inspired by it… and suited themselves up.
Though Laaksonen did not start spending time in los angeles until the early 1980s, he had long known of Mizer and the photographer’s work through Physique Pictorial, the house publication and sales tool for Athletic Model Guild. It was to this magazine that the artist first sent his drawings and it was Mizer, finding the artworks remarkable and seeking to promote them on the magazine’s cover, but finding the artist’s Finnish name too difficult for his clientele, who is responsible for the now famous “Tom of Finland” pseudonym.
By the time the gay liberation movement swept through the United States in the late 1960s, both Tom of Finland and Bob Mizer were already well-known and widely celebrated as veritable pioneers of gay art. Decades before Stonewall Inn and the raid on the Black Cat Tavern these evocative and lusty representations of masculine desire and joyful, eager sex between men proliferated and were disseminated worldwide at a time when the closet was still very much the norm—there was no such thing as a gay community. If these artists were not ahead of their time, they might just have foreseen and even invented a time.
Opening events on November 9
Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland
The Museum of Contemporary Art - Pacific Design Center - 6-9 PM
North San Vicente, between Santa Monica and Melrose
Art and Physique Circa Bob and Tom
Exhibition exploring context surrounding erotic art
ONE Archives collections and materials on loan from Tom of Finland Foundation
ONE Gallery - 6-9 PM
El Tovar and North Robertson, between Santa Monica and Melrose
GoGo Dancer Appreciation Festival
The theme is Tom of Finland
$5 suggested donation benefiting
Frontiers Awareness and Education Foundation and Tom of Finland Foundation
The City of West Hollywood - 7:30-10:30 PM
Larabee and Santa Monica