A Tom of Finland exhibition opens today at cinema Háskólabío. However a formal opening will be on the evening of Monday in relation to the premier of a new film about the artist at the Reykjavík Film Festival (RIFF).
“I know my little ‘dirty drawings’ are never going to hang in the main salons of the Louvre, but it would be nice if — I would like to say ‘when,’ but I better say ‘if’ — our world learns to accept all the different ways of loving. Then maybe I could have a place in one of the smaller side rooms,” the Finnish artist Touko Valio Laaksonen is quoted to have said shortly before he died in 1991.
His dream has not yet come true, but his work is now accessible to the public – in Iceland of all places – as an exhibition of copies of his drawings will open today at Háskólabíó as part of the Icelandic film festival RIFF.
“The main focus of RIFF this year is Finland, and that’s very fitting as the country is celebrating it’s 100 years anniversary as a democracy this year,” says Hrönn Marinósdóttir, the director of RIFF. “One of the films we are showing is the widely praised Tom of Finland and to mark that occasion we got in touch with the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles and got several of his drawings to put in an exhibition here in Reykjavík. The Finnish ambassador will open the exhibition formally after the first screening of the film. But the film will premier on Monday at 19.15, with the actors attending and starting with a Q and A.”
“These are drawings of beautiful men in striking outfits and none of them should offend anyone. They are highly regarded pieces of art and you would need a very strange set of mind to find them obscene.”
The film Tom of Finland depicts the life of Touko Valio Laaksonen best known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland. He was a Finnish artist known for his stylized highly masculinized homoerotic fetish art, and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images” by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade. Over the course of four decades, he produced some 3500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits, wearing tight or partially removed clothing.
“He changed the image of gay men at that time,” says Hrönn. “And he had a great impact on many artists, most notably Freddy Mercury who more or less styled his stage outfits after the outfits of the men in Tom’s drawings.” Other artists like Madonna and Lady Gaga have also looked to the drawings for inspiration for their stage outfits. And his influence is unprecedented in gay culture.
To set up the exhibition RIFF got art students from the Icelandic Academy of Arts (Listaháskóli Íslands) to frame and hang them, so they are responsible how the exhibition looks to the viewers that visit the front hall of cinema Háskólabíó for the next two weeks. But are some of those drawings not “a bit too exposing”, will it be safe to take children to Háskólabíó these days?
“Not at all,” says Hrönn. “These are drawings of beautiful men in striking outfits and none of them should offend anyone. They are highly regarded pieces of art and you would need a very strange set of mind to find them obscene.”
The film itself, directed by Dome Karukoski, has been highly praised wherever it has been screened and has been nominated as the Finnish contribution for the Oscars foreign film sector. Tom is played by Pekka Strang, who will be present at the first Icelandic screening, and the film also has an Icelandic connection as one of the characters is played by Þorsteinn Bachmann, the music is by Hildur Guðnadóttir and one of the producers is the Icelandic producer Ingvar Þórðarson. “The film, titled Tom of Finland, shows how a man with a medium as simple as his imagination, a pen and his drawings has been able to change the perception of, and on, an entire community. This is an extraordinary tale of an extraordinary man. Hopefully it will open eyes and get a lot conservative people to grow some pubic hair and open-mindedness,“ Ingvar said in an interview with GayIceland last year.
The drawings at the exhibition are for sale so even though Tom’s little ‘dirty drawings’ are not destined for the Louvre they might be visible on the walls in Icelandic homes in years to come. Those interested in buying a copy can contact the managers of RIFF at Háskólabíó while the festival is going on but it ends on October 8th.
The films trailer: