Is "Tom of Finland"like “Tom of Maine”? (toothpaste)?
There was a very good documentary, Daddy and the Muscle Academy, about Tom of Finland back in 1991. His artwork became world famous, and yet he tried to remain anonymous for many reasons.
His story is very interesting and I can imagine a new film would/could be equally interesting and look forward to seeing it.
Reading that interview, I have to say that I’m surprised at the praise. I always assumed that he was appreciated on more of a kitsch level. From the work I’ve seen, he struck me as a competent, but not particularly gifted, draftsman who drew his own sexual obsessions - a gay Robert Crumb (though I believe that Crumb is, at his best, a great artist.)
What am I missing, aside the fact that I’m straight?
Without going into a Gay History lecture, Tom of Finland’s erotic sketches were simply a matter of providing the right images at the right time - think of Hugh Hefner and the start of Playboy as marketing that had a lot to do with timing and pushing the main stream erotica of the day.
Prior to about Stonewall Riots in June of 1969, Gay porn was relegated to a lot of muscle, beefcake magazines of so-called body builders in skimpy outfits. Tom of Finland had sold a few (non-overtly sexual) sketches in some of those kinds of magazines and became a very small, cult artist to those who searched out those kinds of magazines - no easy feat for the average person to find in their local book stores/magazine shops.
Despite the stereotypical myth of all queers being wimpy sissies, many Gay men were not only more average looking and invisible to the general public, the sexual fantasies extended towards finding other men who were overtly masculine in appearance and attitude - hence the attraction to the “bad boys” like bikers and prisoners and other masculine sub groups as military, cops and construction workers and cowboys, etc.
Once the laws against Gay pornography began to be repealed and soft core (and later hard core) porn was legalized, it was exactly the overtly masculine Gay porn that became the most popular.
Perhaps you remember the so-called “clone” look of the 70’s - Gay men with moustaches, flannel shirts, work boots and tight jeans? I can remember walking down Christopher Street in NYC and seeing nothing but the “clones” hitting the streets in hoards. These were the Greenwich Village people - and perhaps you have heard of a group called the Village People who quickly adopted the look and fantasy of that era?
There really were a lot of guys who looked like the biker, construction worker, military dude and cop and even the cowboy - although I have to admit the Indian was a bit of a stretch. While they were indeed a parody even then, their look was not all that far off from what you would find in any Gay bar in a large city at that time.
Back to Tom of Finland - of course his sketches were over-the-top, ridiculous parodies - men with muscles on muscles, facial features that were dangerous and they were all hung like horses on viagra. Then again, the nude sketches of women in girlie magazines were hardly any more realistic - 48" chest, 18" waist and 38" hips, with long flowing hair, come-hither looks and lips that could only be achieved with a 35 injections of Botox.
In those heady times immediately after Stonewall, and well into the early 80’s, Gay men came pouring out of the closet and were amazed and relieved to find other men Gay men who did not fit into the wimpy, skinny, sad homosexual stereotype and looked instead like “normal” masculine men.
Tom of Finland simply captured those fantasies and also helped mold the notion that Gay guys could dress provocatively in more masculine attire with facial hair and a strong body image. Yes, he did get criticized for his portrayal of Nazi’s and prison guards and rapes and more graphic S&M images - and eventually his artwork was relegated to more fringe groups - but there is no denying his influence on the Gay male culture of that time, and on a fairly large international scale. Even the big porno stars at the time all emulated Tom of Finland’s sketches and the more they looked like those sketches, the more popular they became (and rather rich and famous - quite a few of those overly masculine stud porn actors achieved rock star status in the Gay community at the time).
So while Tom of Finland’s real life story, and how he came about to fetish these characters (as a young man during WWII) is an interesting story in itself and would make a good film, his influence on the style, fashion and body image of Gay men in the 70’s and early 80’s is undeniable.
You’ll have to admit that as an artist ToF was preceded and outclassed by Paul Cadmus. But there’s no denying his visibility.
Of course, what’s gained by visibility is at the cost of the sly in-joke.
Is that the link you meant to include?
Definitely. In mid-century American culture, common understanding held that “artist = fag” (like all bigotry it didn’t require much evidence: a Thomas Eakins’ painting of bareass boys swimming; a photo of Aubrey Beardsley swanning in his salon: there you go!) The Abstract Expressionist reacted against that by creating a fearsomely macho mythology around themselves, a heroic, booze-it-up club where every man was an island and every woman was driftwood.
Robert Rauschenberg gave that its due with “Monogram,” a stuffed goat (a symbol of lust from Greek mythology) with a car tire symbolizing (subtly or not so subtly) an anus . And for good measure he splooged the goat with a facial of “abstract expressionistic” paint splotches.
I spent the latter half of the 70s doing concert sound, building discos and doing tech for events. One of the biggest events for several years was a a freaking HUGE party called “Stepping Out” put on by Kansas City’s premiere gay bathhouse. It was pretty definitely an eye-opening experience for a straight teen.
OK. I wasn’t sure if he was defining or reflecting tastes. To use your example, was he more like Alberto Vargas than Robert Crumb, in that Vargas was painting the consensus “ideal” woman, while Crumb was drawing his own tastes.