No celebration of the history of gay culture in art would be complete without including Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland.
I first was exposed to Laaksonen when I was at the Venice Biennale around 5 years ago. Of course, this was much too late for most people, but for me it was a most curious experience. I believe it was a Swedish exhibit, where there was an immaculate, contemporary and beautiful villa built and you were simply meant to explore the perfection of its design. Strewn along the walls at places were framed images of Laaksonen’s work, whose raw power somehow meshed well with the pristine curves of the rest of the interior decoration. Outside, in the pool, there was a dead man floating in the water.
I remember the images of Tom of Finland’s work the best out of all the exhibits that year, perhaps no more because of my childish fascination with pornography (though I was an adult, no one can resist looking at a nude picture, much less of one so handsomely endowed as Tom’s subjects were….!) The artist has stuck with me since, but his motives and ideas grow on me more and more.
In his career he had illustrated more than 3500 works; I can only imaging how many massive erections that must have equated to. (I tried to only include non-XXX rated images here, but you get the idea of how raunchy some of his works got. If you want to get your peeve on, you can literally google his name even with a safety search on and still some X rated works will seep through. You just can’t contain the magnitude of these penises.) But, in the my more recent years being exposed to his works, or perhaps, his works exposing themselves to me, I have begun to appreciate exactly how precious his work is to culture.
I’ll try to keep my equalist on a leash here. It is no doubt that women have gotten the short end of the stick in terms of media portrayal. It is a favorite argument of men (at least, the more chauvinist of men) is that they, too, are portrayed unrealistically. My argument is always “OF COURSE. But, being idealistically exaggerated by 15% 1/2 of the time is nowhere near the 5,000% all of the time. In a world where women can be seen like this:
with very little inbetween, you cannot really argue that this:
is a linear comparison.
However, Tom of Finland’s work finally illustrates men idealized from extreme masculinity the same way women are subjugated constantly. I wouldn’t be so upset that women are constantly portrayed as this:
if men were expected to look like this: