LGBT History: Tom of Finland – Art is not just a wish

LGBT history has many sad chapters, but some have a flair of freedom. Art needs a master like Tom of Finland. There is something unique about his original and skilled art. When you see it, you just genuinely gravitate towards the idea and meaning it holds. But beyond the erotic, he reached what many artists wish: To express real feelings.

This kind of art is a big honor regardless of the connection you have to the story it depicts. This kind of art is the dream of all artists. However, you need more than just wishes to have your name watermarked in generational works like this. You need talent, resilience, and consistency to make you master of an art.

Such is the story of Touko Laaksonen popularly known as Tom of Finland. He carved his niche and became a master of art with his visual representation of men. Yes, more specialy gay men.

Early Beginnings

Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), was born into a middle-class family in a town called Kaarina, Finland. Growing up, he fell in love with art and literature influenced by his home, a secondary building, since his parents were teachers.

At the age of 19, he left his hometown for Helsinki to further his education. He enrolled in an art school and majored in advertising. That was the beginning of his drawing career. The first sets of homoerotic images he drew were just for personal pleasure. They were images of laborers that he witnessed while growing up.

Unfortunately, he had to destroy these images before joining the army for World War II. However, joining the army made him love uniformed men, and this rekindled his gay art passion. He began to illustrate more homoerotic images of men. The new images were not those of laborers like before, they were images of men in uniform.

After the war ended, he returned to art school and continued studying an advertisement. By this time, he had perfected the art of romantic images, and his works came out better than previous ones.

The Name “Tom of Finland”

With his drawing becoming more fantasizing and erotic, Touko’s friends encouraged him to start publishing them. In 1957, he summoned courage and submitted some of the drawings to a popular magazine in American under the alias name “Tom”.

Upon publishing the work, the magazine editor, Bob Mizer, credited it “Tom of Finland”. Being a huge magazine, the images went viral, and so did the name “Tom of Finland”.

The period after World War II was a turning point for gay men. This was more emphasized by gay artworks. The biker culture helped illustrate gay men as willful and dominant, just like heterosexual men. This debunked the stereotypical myth of gay men being epicene.

If bikers would go under the origin of their masculine outfits, they’ll identify and probably solve many personal problems.

Touko’s biker images, leather illustrations, and other drawings were significant in passing this message across. American gay artist, George Quaintance also drew images that fueled this moment.

Tom of Finland; The Man

The best types of art are not just good looking ones; they are the ones with enough significance to change a narrative. Throughout his career, Touko proved this. At a time where homosexuals were facing all sorts of prejudices, he showed the world the real version of gay men they did not see.

His images displayed gay men as loving, carefree, happy, and most importantly, normal people that they are. Even with all these, he still managed to portray the eroticism and fetishism of being a gay man.

Touko’s art brought a lot of gay men out of their shells, and they became more appreciative and expressive of who they are. For this, his works were popular in a lot of countries and he enjoyed fame.

In a career that spanned over 40 years, he worked with many gay models, releasing more than 3000 homoerotic illustrations.

Tom of Finland’s Big Break

Around the 1960s, Touko was already fully into the art business. He had quite several private bodies and magazines he was working with. However, his works in this period were being restricted due to a censorship law in America that forbade the public illustration of homosexual and pornographic images.

Although Touko was still creating homoerotic images, he could not get them published. Most of his published works in this period only displayed the athleticism and muscular figure of men. Even though this made him more flexible as an artist, it kept his homoerotic works away from public view.

The big break came in 1962 when a court ruling envisaged that images of homosexual models are not abhorrent. This lifted the censorship ban on homoerotic illustrations, and Tom of Finland could publish his works.

Touko enthused dexterity into new drawings, going as far as adding genitalia and making his illustrations more explicit.

Tom of Finland Exhibition Shows

In 1973 Tom of Finland had his first exhibition show at Hamburg, Germany. Five years later, he had his first American show, where he met Robert Mapplethorpe, a gay paparazzi. Robert helped him become more stylistic with his black and white images.

At the end of Touko’s career, he was said to have participated in many exhibition shows.

More Drawings

Tom of Finland switched it up a gear in the 1970s. He created more emphatic images and added photorealism to his artistic talent. With this, he produced photograph-like images to make his works more realistic and expressive.

He created various sexual fantasies that had an influence on the gay community. He was completely in control of the homoerotic art world.

Tom of Finland Foundation

Touko and his close friend Durk Dehner started the Tom of Finland Company in 1979. A few years on, they launched the Tom of Finland Foundation, aimed at helping other homoerotic gay artists through fundraising, public donations, and incomes from Tom of Finland’s collection house in Las Vegas.

The house has the largest collection of erotic artworks in the world, with more than 1000 works of Touko and about 2000 works from other erotic artists.

Tom of Finland’s Death and Legacy  

In 1991, Tom of Finland lost his life to a lung disease known as emphysema. More than 27 years after his death, he is still regarded as the most influential erotic artist. Books such as “Tom of Finland XXL” and “The Art of Pleasure” have been published to tell the story of his artistic genius.

Tom has a video biography to his name, and it’s title is “The Life and Art of Tom of Finland”. The video features interviews with Touko himself, talking about some of his works. There are also some erotic scenes coined from his artworks.

The Tom of Finland biography is an award-winning documentary in Finland, and it is also widely accepted as an international film.

Paul Riedel in the 80ies
In the 80ies I had a full hair
Book Now