Tom of Finland born 8 May 1920 (d. 1991)
Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland) was a fetish artist notable for his stylised homoerotic art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture.
Over the course of four decades he produced some 3,500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits: heavily muscled torsos, limbs, buttocks and improbably large penises. Tight or partially removed clothing showed off these traits, with penises often visible as distinct bulges in tight trousers or prominently displayed for the viewer. His drawings frequently feature two or more men either immediately preceding or during explicit sexual activity.
Touko Laaksonen made his first erotic drawings in his youth, but none of them are known to exist; Laaksonen said that he had at first kept his drawings hidden, but then destroyed them 'at least by the time I went to serve the army'. His drawings were based on images of masculine Finnish labourers he had seen from an early age. Finland, however, soon became embroiled in the Winter War with the USSR, and then formally involved in World War 2, and Laaksonen was conscripted into the Finnish Army. He served as an anti-aircraft officer, holding the rank of a second lieutenant. He later attributed his fetishistic interest in uniformed men to encounters with men in army uniform at this time. After the war, Laaksonen returned to civilian life and worked in the advertising industry as a commercial graphic artist, continuing to create erotic drawings for his own pleasure on the side.
In 1956, Laaksonen submitted some of his homoerotic drawings to the influential American magazine Physique Pictorial for publication under the pseudonym Tom. The editor of the magazine changed the name to Tom of Finland.
Laaksonen's work soon came to the attention of the gay community at large, and by 1973, he was both publishing erotic comic books and infiltrating the mainstream art world. He was best known for works that focused on homomasculine archetypes such as lumberjacks, motorcycle policemen, sailors, businessmen, bikers, and leathermen. His most prominent comic series are the Kake comics, which included these archetypal characters in abundance.
Exhibitions of Laaksonen's work began in the 1970s and in 1973 he gave up his full-time job at the Helsinki office of international advertising firm McCann-Erickson.
In 1979, Laaksonen founded the Tom of Finland Company to collect and distribute his work. This company exists to the present day, and has expanded into a non-profit foundation dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting homoerotic artwork.
Before his death, Laaksonen was the subject of the Finnish documentary Daddy and the Muscle Academy - The Art, Life, and Times of Tom of Finland which includes interviews with the artist. The European art publisher Taschen has published various collections of his work including three 'Retrospective' Anthologies and the complete Kake comics
Many of his drawings are based on photographs, but none are exact reproductions of them. The photographic inspiration is used, on the one hand, to create lifelike, almost moving images, with convincing and active postures and gestures whilst, on the other hand, Laaksonen exaggerates physical features and presents his ideal of masculine beauty and sexual allure, combining realism with fantasy.
Arguably Laaksonen's work revived and commercialised an underground leather counter-culture which emerged after World War 2 and reached its height in the late 1970s and early 1980s before the emergence of AIDS in the gay community.
The apparel, styling, and demeanour adopted by large numbers of gay men during that period appear to be derived directly from his work. Although the prevalence of this 'look' has declined since the mid-1980s - except in the leather and S&M scene - Laaksonen's work continues to be used extensively in gay publications, bars, clubs, and online communities who associate with its erotic subject matter. The combination of cap, leather jacket, and moustache became known in the pop culture of Western world as a visual stereotype of gay men.
Tom of Finland Foundation
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