Tom’s World

tom01.jpg

The celebratory stamps produced by the Finnish postal service in 2014.

A post for Touko Valio Laaksonen, the man known to the world as Tom of Finland, born 100 years ago today. Back in March I finally acquired Tom of Finland XXL, a gorgeous, heavyweight Taschen volume edited by Dian Hanson, as a result of which Tom and his leather-clad muscle-men have been in my thoughts even without his anniversary. The thick-necked hunks that populate Tom’s drawings have never been my ideal of masculine beauty but I admire his dedication to erotic obsession as well as his draughtsmanship, the latter even more so after seeing the high-quality reproductions in Hanson’s collection. The drawings from the 1970s and 80s are especially impressive, when success had given the artist more time to spend perfecting his figures and capturing all the ways that leather apparel folds itself and reflects the light. His beautiful pencil renderings of jackets, trousers and boots treat their subjects to the careful scrutiny that Dutch still-life painters used to devote to pheasants and apples; this is a fetishist’s infatuation raised to the status of art.

tom07.jpg

Leather duo (1963).

Tom of Finland’s progress from amateur pornographer to gallery artist and national institution is a very unlikely career path, especially when he wasn’t dependent on the support of the art market. Tom’s earliest drawings and comic strips were relatively simple things but still explicit enough for the Finnish authorities in the 1940s to find them obscene. Many erotic artists have been subject to similar opprobrium but none of them have achieved posthumous fame as the most internationally visible male artist from the nation that once proscribed their work, and all this without toning down that work in any way. Tom shares his celebrity with Moomin creator Tove Jansson, which means that Finland is now the only nation in the world whose art is represented internationally by a gay man and a lesbian. Their work, needless to say, could hardly be more different, despite both artists being adept at black-and-white illustration and the creation of sequential narratives. Jansson’s Moomins have been universally popular for many years but Tom of Finland’s art, which has never been anything other than gay pornography, is inevitably limited in its appeal. The lavish depictions of cock-sucking and anal sex are so profuse and unrelenting that whatever is shown of his drawings in the general media is always carefully selective, shunning the enormous penises in favour of a moustached face or a pair of embracing clones.

tom04.jpg

I’m amused by this and also reassured that there are still a few aspects of human life that are too anarchic for exploitation by mass media. The global domination of American culture and American technology has rendered everything grist to its all-devouring mill, everything, that is, except for explicit sex. Pornography is also a part of the US cultural behemoth but it’s like the bastard child that everybody pretends doesn’t exist and wishes would go away. America’s gay publications gave Tom of Finland his nom de plume and made him famous, but porn, for a variety of reasons, resists universal acceptance and approval. Tom’s art is so single-minded in its representation of gay men gleefully fucking each other that there’s little about it that can be exploited by cultural products intended to appeal to the widest audience, or sold to nations with repressive attitudes to gay sex and sexuality. Tom’s libidinous leather-clad hero, Kake, ejaculates his way through multiple penetrations and gang bangs the likes of which you’ll never see in a big-budget franchise, no matter how much Hollywood teases audiences with more polite same-sex scenarios. How many erections are a paying audience prepared to swallow?

Continue reading “Tom’s World”

Weekend links 465

palladini.jpg

The Star (1970) from The Aquarian Tarot by David Palladini.

• Artist David Palladini died in March but I only heard the news this week. His poster for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu has been a favourite of mine ever since the film’s release, while some of his other works have featured here in the past. Still popular among Tarot users is the Aquarian Tarot (1970), a deck published a few years after Palladini had helped with the production of the Linweave Tarot. From the same period as the Aquarian deck is a set of Zodiac posters, all of which exhibit Palladini’s distinctive blend of Art Nouveau and Deco stylings. In addition to posters, Palladini produced book covers and illustrations, and even a few record covers. A book collecting all of this work would be very welcome.

Erotikus: A History of the Gay Movies (1974? 75? 78?): Fred Halsted presents a 90-minute history of American gay porn, from the earliest beefcake films to the hardcore of the 1970s, some of which Halsted also helped create. Related: Centurians of Rome [sic]: Ashley West and April Hall on the bank robber who made the most expensive gay porno of all time.

Peter Bradshaw reviews Too Old to Die Young, a Nicolas Winding Refn TV series described as “a supernatural noir”. Sign me up.

Naomi Wolf’s Outrages establishes the context for [John Addington] Symonds’s desperate efforts to justify his own sexual feelings. Since he was born in 1840, he was 15 when the first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass appeared, the same year that legislation in Britain streamlined the laws against sodomy and ensured that men found guilty of it served long prison sentences. With intelligence and flair, Wolf uses the various responses to Whitman to show the levels of intense need in the decades after the publication of Leaves of Grass for images and books that would rescue homosexuality from increasing public disapproval.

Colm Tóibín reviews Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love by Naomi Wolf

• Record label Dark Entries has discovered 40 more reels (!) of music by Patrick Cowley dating from 1974 to 1979.

• “Is Stockhausen’s Licht the most bonkers operatic spectacle ever?” asks Robert Barry.

• Sex, Spunk, Shoes and Sweet Satisfaction: A Q&A with artist Cary Kwok.

• Tripping his brains out: Eric Bulson on Michel Foucault and LSD.

• Paul O’Callaghan chooses 10 best Dennis Hopper performances.

• “More obscene than De Sade.” Luc Sante on the fotonovela.

• Karl Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (1928).

• The Strange World of…Gong

Neonlicht (1978) by Kraftwerk | Brüder Des Schattens, Söhne Des Lichtes (1978) by Popol Vuh | Lichtfest (2017) by ToiToiToi

Typefaces of the occult revival

mmm.jpg

Man, Myth & Magic #1, January 1970; McCall’s, March 1970.

The announcement last week of the death of British character actor Geoffrey Bayldon prompted some discussion here about the typeface used for the titles of Bayldon’s TV series from the early 1970s, Catweazle. This was a humorous drama in which the actor portrayed a warlock transplanted by a time portal from the Norman era to the present day, a comic counterpart to another occult-themed series, Ace of Wands (1970–72). Being aimed at children, both Catweazle and Ace of Wands are at the lighter end of the great flourishing of occult-related media that runs in parallel with the rise and fall of psychedelic culture, a period roughly spanning the years 1965 to 1975. The two trends reflected and fed off each other; the hippie movement stimulated interest in the occult (Aleister Crowley is on the cover of Sgt Pepper) while giving to the commercial propagators of the supernatural a range of aesthetics lifted from the 19th century.

occult.jpg

Muller, 1972; TIME, June 1972.

Among the graphic signifiers is a small collection of typefaces from the Victorian or Edwardian eras, designs which vanished from sight after 1920 only to surface 50 years later in very different settings to their previous deployment. I’m always fascinated by the way context changes the perception of a typeface, and the repurposing of Art Nouveau fonts—which hadn’t previously been associated with diabolism—to signify witchcraft or sorcery is a good example of this. In the case of the occult revival this was partly opportunism: the commercial application of post-psychedelic style made the previously untouchable trendy again, decoration and elaborate stylisation was no longer taboo. But it was also a solution to the problem of signifying the sorcerous with typography when there were no off-the-peg solutions as there were for, say, Westerns or stories about the Space Race. As well as carrying with them a flavour of old books, some of the more curious letterforms were reminiscent of the glyphs of magical alphabets which no doubt explains their popularity.

What follows is a chronological selection of the more striking examples (or my favourites…) which conveniently begins with Ringlet, the Catweazle font. With the trend being towards Art Nouveau you find popular Nouveau styles such as Arnold Bocklin also being used in the 1970s but I’ve avoided these in favour of the less common choices.

Ringlet (1882) by Hermann Ihlenburg

ringlet3.jpg

jullian08.jpg

Pall Mall, 1971.

Jullian’s landmark study of the Symbolist movement isn’t an occult text but it is a great favourite of mine whose original title—Esthètes et Magiciens—puts it in the right sphere. Inside, the author touches on the spiritual concerns of many of the artists which included Theosophy and fashionable Satanism.

ringlet1.jpg

ringlet2.jpg

Duckworth, 1973.

Aleister Crowley is represented here with the first reprinting of his erotic poetry, produced in a limited run by the venerable London house of Duckworth.

ringlet4.jpg

Rise Above Records, 2016.

Blood Ceremony are Canadians devoted to the occult rock of previous decades. Their presentation matches songs with titles like The Great God Pan and Morning Of The Magicians.

Continue reading “Typefaces of the occult revival”

The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima

mishima.jpg

This is another of those excellent television documentaries that I have imprisoned on a video tape somewhere so it was good to find on YouTube. The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima (1985) was directed by Michael MacIntyre for the BBC’s Arena arts strand. This was the year that Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters was released so the documentary had some topical value even though Schrader’s film isn’t mentioned at all (something that wouldn’t happen today). MacIntyre begins as Schrader does, however, with the events of the final day of Mishima’s life on November 25th, 1970, before rewinding to present a biographical portrait of the writer/actor/director. There’s more footage than I remembered of Mishima discussing his work (in English) while John Hurt reads from Mishima’s writings. Commentary is supplied by biographer Henry Scott Stokes, translator Donald Keene, photographer Eikoh Hosoe (creator of the famous Mishima beefcake poses), director Nagisa Oshima, and Mishima’s lover Akihiro Maruyama, an actor who the credits also describe as a “female impersonator”.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tamotsu Yato’s men with katanas
Forbidden Colours
Mishima’s Rite of Love and Death

George Platt Lynes revisited

lynnes1.jpg

Untitled (reclining with bathing trunks), circa early 1950’s.

Photographs by George Platt Lynes have appeared here before, as have links to exhibitions at Wessel + O’Connor Fine Art. The latter are showing prints by the former in a new exhibition that opens today, and if I’m unlikely to visit their gallery any time soon I still enjoy passing on the news. Unlike many of the gallery press releases I receive, the ones from Wessel + O’Connor are always of interest, and their site is generous with its display of the work on offer. (They also sent me a card from their Czanara show which I was very pleased to receive.)

lynnes2.jpg

Buddy Stanley and Tex Smutney (1941).

Most of the prints on this occasion tend away from the artier side of Lynes’ work towards outright beefcake (for the artier side, see this post). Among the nudes there’s one of the famous photos from a session Lynes made with Yul Brynner in 1942, pre-fame and with hair but sans clothes. See that photo, and more, here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Balanchine, Lynes and Orpheus
The recurrent pose 17
George Platt Lynes