Critics’ Picks

Untitled, 1984.

Los Angeles

“Tom of Finland: Rough

Western Project
2762 S. LA Cienega Blvd.
July 29–September 9

Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, widely known as Tom of Finland, once remarked, “If I don’t have an erection when I’m doing a drawing, I know it’s no good.” This uplifting barometer of “good" art also reveals the motivation behind Laaksonen’s underground practice. Spanning fifty years of Tom of Finland’s prolific career, this show presents some 130 erotic drawings—amassed from early sketchbooks, unfinished compositions, and completed works—of well-endowed men engaged in gay sex scenarios (though female bodies ornament a few of the orgiastic scenes). Rendered with a silvery graphite that plays up leather, skin, and flawlessly greased hair, each drawing flaunts curvaceous masculine archetypes (now well-worn stereotypes, like bikers, cops, soldiers, and cowboys) that embody the pursuit of unadulterated pleasure. While the drawings are provocative, humorous, and tender, it is the supplementary objects and ephemera, on loan from the Tom of Finland Foundation, that flesh out the artist’s aesthetic aptitude and fixations. Among the most intriguing historical pieces are Laaksonen’s Finnish Army lieutenant cap, his World War II photo journal, a collection of archived source material—disembodied heads and faces, Peter Berlin snapshots, Athletic Model’s Guild mail-order catalogs advertising “sensational stretch denim,” and newspaper clippings of men from the waist up, next to which Tom sketched in legs and riding pants—and a childhood journal from age seven that, storyboarding a tale of cops and robbers, prefigures his mature images and suggests an inherent understanding of homosocial affairs.