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.
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.
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”
Untitled (2011) by YDK Morimoe. Via Jim Post at Dennis Cooper’s.
• For The Climax Of The Night by Total Leatherette is almost certainly the only album you’ll see this year with autofellatio cover art. Faux Fox gives a taste of the new album, while an earlier piece, Squeeze Hunk, features a Tom of Finland-style video. And speaking of which, Dome Karukoski’s feature film, Tom of Finland, is released in the UK this week. Related: Tom of Finland coffee.
• The death of playwright Joe Orton in 1967 prompted yet more 50th anniversary articles this week. Mentioned here before, and better value than all the textual appraisal, is the BBC’s 70-minute TV documentary from 1982, A Genius Like Us: A Portrait of Joe Orton, which includes interviews with family, friends, colleagues and Orton’s biographer, John Lahr.
• Two skulls, 50,000 postcards and a book that took 50 years to finish: Stuart Jeffries visits artist Tom Phillips.
• New at the Internet Archive: 25,000 78RPM records. You can never go wrong with Duke Ellington.
• Lock Your Door and The Reformation of St. Jules: Algernon Blackwood filmed in 1949.
• Redemption, an exhibition of art by Fay Pomerance (1912–2001) at Ushaw College, Durham.
• At Dirge Magazine: Daniel Pietersen on the myth of the sunken city.
• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 613 by Aaron Dilloway.
• Laetitia Sadier’s favourite albums.
• RIP Hywel Bennett
• Sunken City (1961) by Les Baxter | Ys (1971) by Alan Stivell | Atlantis (1971) by Deuter
Fly Carefully (1969) by Stanislaw Zagorski.
• Video of Tuxedomoon live in San Francisco, Rotterdam and Paris, 1983 (or try this copy), and a late-night German TV broadcast from 1985. The first Tuxedomoon album, Half-Mute, has been reissued by Crammed Discs with an accompanying album, Give Me New Noise: Half-Mute Reflected, featuring cover versions of the songs by various artists.
• More end-of-year reviews: Dennis Cooper’s recommendations are always eclectic (and thanks again for the blog shout!); not necessarily the best ambient and space music of 2016 by Dave Maier; a review of the year by graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook; the 15 finalists of the 2016 Art of Building architectural photography competition.
• The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington will be published in April 2017 by Dorothy. Related: Letters, Dreams, and Other Texts by Remedios Varo will be published next year by Wakefield Press. Also of interest on that page is a new edition of Haschisch by Oscar AH Schmitz illustrated by Alfred Kubin.
• The week in Things (see this post): John Carpenter’s The Thing: The Story of an SF Horror Game-Changer. Ennio Morricone’s score will be infecting the vinyl world next year. Meanwhile, Matthew Thrift recommends “10 great films set in the Arctic and Antarctica”.
• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 581 by Pan Daijing, XLR8R podcast 468 by Jan Jelinek, and Secret Thirteen Mix 203 by Blood Sport.
• A Year In The Country on Monumental Follies (1972), a book about architectural eccentricity by Stuart Barton.
• William Burroughs reads 23 random paragraphs from Naked Lunch each time you load this page.
• “The world is terrifying and destructive and dehumanising and tragic,” says Charlie Kaufman.
• Scents and sensuality: William Dalrymple on the perfumes of India, past and present.
• Brenda S G Walter on Hill House: The haunted soul of Shirley Jackson.
• A trailer for Dome Karukoski’s Tom of Finland. There’s more here.
• Illustrating the Sixties: Paintings by Italian artists in London.
• Michael Rother and Cavern Of Anti-Matter live in Berlin.
• Network 23 (1981) by Tangerine Dream | Exit 23 (1989) by Psychick Warriors Ov Gaia | Studio 23 (2012) by The Time And Space Machine
A new Wicker Man poster by Dan Mumford appears on the cover of the forthcoming DVD/BR reissues. Prints are available.
• The long-awaited release of a restored print of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man approaches. Dangerous Minds has a trailer while The Guardian posted a clip of the restored footage. The latter isn’t anything new if you’ve seen the earlier uncut version, but the sound and picture quality are substantially better. I’ve already ordered my copy from Moviemail.
• “It’s a fairly bleak place, and it has this eerie atmosphere. East Anglia is always the frontline when there’s an invasion threatening, so there are lumps of concrete dissolving into sand, bits of barbed wire and tank tracks that act as a constant reminder. I really love it.” Thomas Dolby talking to Joseph Stannard about environment and memory.
• Dome Karukoski is planning a biopic of artist Tom of Finland. Related: Big Joy, a documentary about the life and work of James Broughton, poet, filmmaker and Radical Faerie.
The desire to be liked is acceptable in real life but very problematic in fiction. Pleasantness is the enemy of good fiction. I try to write on the premise that no one is going to read my work. Because there’s this terrible impulse to grovel before the reader, to make them like you, to write with the reader in mind in that way. It’s a terrible, damaging impulse. I feel it in myself. It prevents you doing work that is ugly or upsetting or difficult. The temptation is to not be true to what you want to write and to be considerate or amusing instead.
Novelist Katie Kitamura talks to Jonathan Lee.
• Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist opens on Wednesday at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin.
• Julia Holter turns spy in the video for This Is A True Heart.
• Alexis Petridis talks to graphic designer Peter Saville.
Al-Naafiysh (The Soul) by Hashim. From the Program Your 808 poster series by Rob Rickets.
• Rob Goodman on The Comforts of the Apocalypse.
• Post-Medieval Illustrations of Dante’s Sodomites.
• Annoy Jonathan Franzen by playing Cat Bounce!
• Paolozzi at Pinterest
• The Surrealist Waltz (1967) by Pearls Before Swine | The Jungle Line (1981) by Low Noise (Thomas Dolby) | Al-Naafiysh (The Soul) (1983) by Hashim