From: Tim Evanson <email@example.com>|
Subject: Tom of Finland article in "Washington Post"
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 97 21:11:55
Organization: Tim Evanson's Home Page (coming soon!)
Below is a copy of an article on Tom of Finland which first appeared in the "Washington Post" on March 14. As everyone knows, Tom of Finland was a gay artist who drew pictures of idealized musclemen in fetishistic clothing (uniforms, lumberjack gear, etc.). A few years ago, the Tom of Finland Video Company was also founded. (Their Web site is at http://www.eroticarts.inter.net/company/) Although it has manufactured very few videos, and most of the films have been static pictures of Tom of Finland drawings, the company continues to grow.
Like many gay porn studios, Tom of Finland Video is branching out. Tom of Finland and Forum Studios both have a line of clothing, for example. The Post's article, prompted by the Tom of Finland company's clothing line, explores the impact of Tom of Finland on erotica and clothing.
I found that the article grossly exaggerated the impact Tom of Finland has had on eroticism and gay men. When the conservator of the Berlin Tom of Finland retrospective says, "It's like when people say, 'Where were you when JFK was killed?' For a gay guy, it's where were you when you saw your first Tom of Finland drawing?"--I find that jaw-droppingly over-stated.
I also find that the author sandbags the reader. She mentions Tom of Finland's impact on designers Thierry Mugler, Ray Dragon, and Jean-Paul Gaultier--without also mentioning that all three are gay, Mugler and Gaultier have attended the Gay Video Guide Awards and Chi Chi LaRue's birthday bash and the Probe Men in Video Awards, and that Dragon is himself a porn star. She mentions that Mapplethorpe and Warhol collected Tom of Finland's work--and doesn't mention that both men were gay and made photographic and (in Warhol's case) cinematic pornography. All of this is akin to asking a mother if her favorite son is a good boy.
Anyway, it's an interesting article. And it goes to the point of gay porn and eroticism's continuing impact on the larger, heterosexual culture.
"Tom of Finland: Pecs on the Chic," by Robin Givhan. "Washington Post," Style front page, March 14,1997, p. G1
The bodacious men thundering across the stage have powerful, lumberjack shoulders and the whittled waists of elite swimmers. Their legs are gnarled by swollen quadriceps and coursing veins. Biceps flex with each move of their massive arms. Their clothes--skimpy though they are--cling to every hill and valley.
They are the male equivalent to the pinup girl.
The models revel in playing to an audience ravenous for something a little wicked. One young man's hand teasingly slides along his inner thigh.
This spectacle, under cover of night in New York's meat-packing district, is a fashion show staged by Tom of Finland Clothing. The appreciative audience is composed of fashion chroniclers, supportive friends and fans, and a few gentlemen who are getting lightheaded at the sight of so much bulging masculinity.
Fall '97 is only the second season for Tom of Finland Clothing, designed by David Johnson and Gary Robinson. Beneath the cloud of testosterone is a collection of tight sportswear created for men who want to show off spectacular physiques. There is some camouflage, some polar fleece, some leather and lace-front pants. Silhouettes hug the body, the fabrics stretch, and the styles draw from the uniforms of police officers, outdoorsmen, mechanics and military men.
The clothes celebrate an ideal epitomized in the illustrations of Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland, who died in 1991. For more than a generation of gay men, who were faced only with the stereotype of the foppish queen, the audacious drawings of Tom of Finland offered an alternative butch standard.
Tom's men had the broad shoulders and tight waist associated with the male ideal. His men were so defined and sculpted their bodies were like exaggerated, anatomically correct erotic dreams. They were beyond perfection, beyond the realm of the possible.
"As an artist, he glorified the male form," Robinson says. "We spend so much of the time glorifying the female form, there's nothing wrong with saying, 'I work out. I want to show my body.' And without going for that 60s peacock form.
"Men across the board can wear a great pair of jeans, a rain poncho or a well-cut vest," Robinson says. "There's nothing homoerotic about the clothes," although he adds that some of Laaksonen's drawings "were very erotic."
The hyper-masculine style of some gay men--ranging from kitschy Village People cowboys and cops to leather daddies in motorcycle boots and jackets--can be traced back to the imagery of Tom of Finland. He popularized tight jeans, the woodsman look, uniform dressing and leather everything. The illustrator created a modern-day iconic gay style. And much of popular menswear owes a great debt to that gay aesthetic.
John Bartlett was inspired by the work of Tom of Finland when, about a year ago, he presented his influential runway show of buff models in tight-fitting clothes. Bartlett's work, among several designers', led to a shift away from loose-fitting, boxy silhouettes to more close-to-the-body styles. Parisian Jean-Paul Gaultier's beefy sailor boys and his macho behemoths in kilts reflect Tom of Finland's aesthetic. And in more subtle ways, designers who emphasize a hyperbolic masculinity such as Thierry Mugler, Ray Dragon and the design team of Richard Edwards owe a debt to Tom of Finland.
Even the ubiquitous casual summer uniform of denim shorts and hiking boots worn by everyone from Dupont Circle musclemen to Capitol Hill junior bureaucrats has distant roots in Tom of Finland's love for lumberjacks.
The artist was born in Finland in 1920 and started his career in advertising, eventually becoming an art director at McCann-Erickson Advertising in Helsinki. His first idealized male sketch was published in 1957, in a muscle magazine called Physique Pictorial. It was an erotic beefcake illustration that made a host of gay boys quiver.
"I was a kid and they wouldn't sell a dirty book to a 12-year-old kid, so I had to steal it," says F. Valentine Hooven III, who designed the catalogue for the 1994-95 Berlin retrospective--the largest ever--of the illustrator's work.
"It's like when people say, 'Where were you when JFK was killed?' For a gay guy, it's where were you when you saw your first Tom of Finland drawing?" Hooven says.
"Earlier drawings pretended to be all about health and strength and not about sex," Hooven says. "Tom's drawings openly said this guy is sexy. ... Homosexuality was that love that dare not speak its name. With Tom, it wasn't going to be that way. These were happy men. Proud men." Whether they were soaring naked through the air on a trapeze, squatting nude--except for a pair of motorcycle boots--on a wooden crate, or being, uh, frisked by cops, they bore contented expressions.
Tom of Finland's work was collected by artists Andy Warhol and Robert Mapplethorpe, and a biographical film, "Daddy and the Muscle Academy," was financed by the Finnish government and two Finnish television stations. The Tom of Finland Foundation, based in Los Angeles, was founded to preserve and promote erotic art. The foundation licensed the name to the clothing company.
In addition to drawings of Paul Bunyan types, Tom of Finland's illustrations are filled with fetishistic references to cops, sailors, security guards, and, more disturbingly, Nazis. "Sometimes the attraction of the uniform is so powerful in me that I get the feeling that I am making love to the clothes and the man inside is just there to hold them up and give them shape, sort of like an animated department store dummy," reads a Tom of Finland quote from the retrospective catalogue.
The illustrator managed to separate fascist propaganda and atrocities from totalitarian style in order to eroticize Nazi uniforms.
"In my drawings there is no politics, no ideological statements," declare another entry in the catalogue. "I am thinking only of the drawing itself. The whole Nazi ideology, the extremism, is hateful to me, but nevertheless I *had* to draw them--they had the sexiest uniforms!"
His illustrations have been used as examples of the ways in which fetishism infiltrates the general consciousness through fashion.
Writes fashion historian Valerie Steele in "Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power": "Uniformed authority figures, such as military and police officers, are still the focus of considerable sexual interest among both gay and straight men. (There is some evidence that they may also appeal sexually to gay and straight women.)"
Certainly the last few years have produced fashion that would have titillated Tom of Finland. Fall '96 was the season of the uniform, with men's and women's fashion filled with details such as brass buttons, epaulets, flat-front trousers, and military blues and khakis.
"As designers and as gay men, we've been sort of--not inundated--but (Tom's work has) always been present in our lives," says Johnson. "It's something that pervades a designer's work even if they aren't doing a Tom of Finland line."
[Picture: Caption--Left, a drawing by Touko Laaksonen, better known as Tom of Finland, whose art inspired a line of clothing. At right: Camouflage that doesn't.]
[Picture: Caption--Tom of Finland's idealized sketches led to a line of clothes ranging from the functional (lace-closure shirt, right) to the decorative (leather over-the-shoulder harness, left).]