Tom of Finland /   Touko Laaksonen

Finland 1920 - 1991

Illustration, Drawing

Tom of Finland
Touko Laaksonen
September 25, 2015
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Thought the homoerotic images have been present in the visual arts throughout the history, the concept gained its real popularity with the work of gay Finland artist Touko Laaksonen. Best known by his pseudonym, Tom of Finland, this creative is notorious for his controversial, fetishistic representations of men. His oeuvre spread to countries worldwide and has had an enormous influence on gay identity. In a career which encompassed more than forty years of making art, Tom of Finland’s output came to include over 3500 illustrations, mostly featuring homoerotic archetypes such as lumberjacks, sailors, bikers, police and men dressed in leather. Laaksonen’s famous Kake comics featured gay men as happy, healthy, and normal people in order to change the negative myths and stereotypes about gay people which often depict them as unhappy and self-loathing individuals.

Early Years

Born in 1920 in Kaarina, a small town located in the Southwest Finland, Touko grew up with an appreciation for art, music, and literature in a middle-class family. Both his parents were grammar school teachers, so the family lived in the school building. In 1939 Touko Laaksonen left his hometown to attend art school and study advertising in Helsinki. There he created his first homoerotic drawings for his own personal enjoyment, but he destroyed all of them before joining the Finnish Army in 1940 in its fight against the Soviet invasion. His early illustrations were based on images of masculine laborers he had seen growing up. Having served as a second lieutenant, Touko Laaksonen became fascinated by men in uniform and began to portray an idealized male form in his works. In 1945, Laaksonen left the Army after the war and returned to his studies in art and advertising. Touko’s artwork of this period compared to later works is considered more romantic and softer with gentle-featured shapes and forms. His subjects, however, even in his earliest pieces dating from the first half of the 1940s are ecstatic, gushing, and ejaculating.

Tom of Finland

After WWII, Laaksonen continued to draw his fantasies and, urged by close friends, submitted some of his own illustrations to the American bodybuilding magazine Physique Pictorial. Because of the conservative social climate in 1957, he signed them “Tom”, but the magazine editor credited the work to “Tom of Finland,” which then became Laaksonen’s popular handle. His images were an immediate success. The post-World War II era saw the rise of the biker culture which provided postwar gay men with a stylized masculinity that included rebelliousness and danger instead of dominant gay stereotypes which presented gay men as effeminate. The artist was influenced by images of bikers as well as artwork of a gay American artist George Quaintance, among others. Laaksonen’s illustrations of bikers and leathermen capitalized on the leather and denim outfits which distinguished those subjects from mainstream sexual cultures.

life store fashion culture time museum
Tom of Finland – Untitled #4, Motorcycle Series, 1959 (Left) / Untitled #5, Motorcycle Series, 1959 (Right)

United States Censorship Laws

In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States censorship laws that prohibited a depiction of homosexual pornography relatively influenced the style and context of Laakonen’s own work; by this time, however, Laaksonen rendering private commissions, which provided him with the creative freedom to produce more explicit – but unpublished – works. His published works from this period often featured images of handsome, muscular young men in athletic poses often shown demonstrating exercises. The turning point was the 1962 case of MANual Enterprises v. Day when the United States Supreme Court ruled that magazines consisting largely of photographs of nude or near-nude male models are not obscene. It opened the US mail to nude male pornographic magazines, especially those catering to homosexuals. Tom of Finland reacted by publishing more explicit drawings and stylized his subjects’ fantastical aspects with overemphasized physical aspects, especially their genitals and muscles.

Gay Drawings

Tom of Finland applied his love of machismo with his natural artistic talent to make homoerotic images that glorify the idealized male form. Towards the mid-1970s, he began to emphasize photorealistic aspects of his style. Many of his artworks are based on photographs, but none are exact reproductions of them. The artist combined photorealistic attention to detail with his wild sexual fantasies to produce a remarkable body of work. One of the most famous examples of this period is the 1975 drawing in which a naked man floating in space and literally fucks the beach-ball-size Earth.

fashion store life time culture taschen museum
Tom of Finland – Untitled, XXL Series (Left) / The Saddle Thief III, 1958 (Right)

Tom of Finland Foundation

With his friend Durk Dehner, Laaksonen co-founded the Tom of Finland Company in 1979. Five years later the two friends co-founded Tom of Finland Foundation as a nonprofit organization and educational archive which preserves, restores and promotes the legacy of the iconic gay artist and his fellow erotic artists. It is supported by donations from the public, fundraising events, dues from its membership programs and commercial applications of Tom’s art. The Permanent Collection houses more than 1,500 original works by Tom and another 2,000 works by numerous of other artists, and the archives, with well over 100,000 images, documents, and records, together comprise the world’s largest repository of erotic art. In 1995, Tom of Finland Clothing Company presented a fashion line inspired by Laaksonen’s drawings. In September 2015, Tom of Finland Foundation collaborated with ONE® condoms to help foster conversations about safer sex.

Video Biography and Stamps

In 1991, the America film distributor Zeitgeist Films released a video biography, titled Daddy and the Muscle Academy: The Life and Art of Tom of Finland which included interviews with Tom himself, commentary from his “leather men,” numerous of original drawings and steamy fantasy scenes inspired by his art. The documentary was shown on Finnish national TV and won a Jussi Award – the annual film awards for the best achievements within Finnish cinema – in 1992 and was shown at many international film festivals. In September 2014, Itella Posti released a set of stamps in Finland to honor Tom of Finland. Designed by Finnish graphic artist Timo Berry, the set contains three 1st class adhesive stamps. The two drawing that appears on the stamp sheet are both untitled and date in the late 70’s.

In 2014, Itella Posti released a set of stamps in Finland to honor Tom of Finland

 sex city international sexuality taschen books
Tom of Finland’s Works on Finland’s 1st Class Adhesive Stamps

The First New York Exhibition

Since his first exhibition at The Revolt Press Bookstore in Hamburg, Germany in 1973, Tom of Finland has participated in over a hundred individual and collective shows throughout the globe. In 1978, he had his first show at the United States held at Stompers, a boots store in the West Village, New York. Tom of Finland’s first gallery show was held at Feyway Studios in San Francisco. At the same event, he met a gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe known for his sometimes controversial large-scale, highly stylized black and white photography. Mapplethorpe helped Tom to organize his first major New York show at Robert Samuel Gallery in 1980. Since then his work was on display in numerous individual and collective shows throughout the globe.

The Influence of Tom of Finland

One of the most influential creators of gay images, Tom of Finland died of complications from emphysema in 1991 in Helsinki, Finland. Twenty-five years after his death, the artist remains one of the most acclaimed erotic illustrator of the 20th century, gay or otherwise. His paintings and drawings depicting extremely muscular, strong cops and enormously endowed bikers have been tremendously influential on the generations of gay men who discovered his oeuvre in homoerotic magazines, and later, in such books as Tom of Finland XXL (2009), and The Art of Pleasure(1998).

Tom of Finland is represented by David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

Featured image: Tom of Finland – Untitled (detail) – Sailors Series
All images used for illustrative purposes only; copyright © Tom of Finland Estate

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2016The Pleasure of PlayKunsthalle Helsinki, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
2015The Pleasure of PlayArtists Space Exhibitions, New York, NYSolo
2015Sealed with a Secret: Correspondence of Tom of FinlandPostimuseu, Tampere, FinlandSolo
2015Early Work 1944 – 1972David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
2015Slash: In Between the Normative and the Fantasykim? Contemporary Art Centre, Riga, LatviaGroup
2015#RAWHIDEVenus Over Manhattan, New York, NYGroup
2014Richard Hawkins & William S. Burroughs, Cerith Wyn Evans, Isa Genzken, Tom of FinlandGalerie Buchholz, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2014LET’S GO LET GO: In Memoriam Hudson33 Orchard, New York, NYGroup
2014Abandon the ParentsStatens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, DenmarkGroup
2014Sealed with a Secret: Correspondence of Tom of FinlandPostimuseu, Tampere, FinlandGroup
2014Do Not DisturbGerhardsen Gerner, Oslo, NorwayGroup
2014Stroke: From Under the Mattress to the Museum WallLeslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NYGroup
2013Tom of Finland Preliminary DrawingsStuart Shave/Modern Art, London, EnglandSolo
2013Bob Mizer & Tom of FinlandMOCA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2013Happy Birthday Galerie Perrotin/25 YearsLille300/Tripostal, Lille, FranceGroup
2013Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper)Institute of Contemporary Art, London, EnglandGroup
2013I Want That Inside MeFeature Inc., New York, NYGroup
2013Rare and RawLeslie + Lohman Museum, New York, NYGroup
2012Tom of FinlandKulturhuset, Stockholm, SwedenSolo
2012Tom of Finland: Male MasterworksWorld Erotic Art Museum, Miami Beach, FLSolo
2012PuntFeature Inc., New York, NYGroup
2012We the PeopleRobert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York, NYGroup
2011Tom of Finland: Public and PrivateAntebellum, Hollywood, CASolo
2011Tom of Finland: Original DrawingsPHD, St. Louis, USASolo
2011Tom of FinlandEuropean Capital of Culture, Logomo, Turku, FinlandSolo
2011Tom of Finland and MatesGalerie Mooi-Man, Groningen, The NetherlandsGroup
2011Compass in HandMartin-Gropius-Bau, New York, NYGroup
2011StrippedMuseum of Sex Comics, New York, NYGroup
2010Compass in HandValencian Institute of Modern Art, Valencia SpainGroup
2010Never Alone: A Look at Tom and His FriendsOne Archives Gallery, West Hollywood, CAGroup
2010Tom of Finland and then someFeature Inc., New York, NYGroup
2010The BoneyardMaloney Fine Art + Kim Light, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2010Revealed: The Tradition of Male Homoerotic ArtCentral Connecticut State University Art Galleries, New Britain, CTGroup
2009Tom of FinlandSchlechtriem Brothers, Berlin, GermanySolo
2009Sex in the StreetsErotic Heritage Museum, Las Vegas, NVGroup
2009The Collectors, 53rd Venice BiennaleNordic & Danish Pavilions, Venice, ItalyGroup
2009TattooKathleen Cullen Fine Arts, New York, NYGroup
2009Compass in Hand: Selections from the Rothschild Foundation CollectionMuseum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
2008Tom of FinlandGalería Espacio Mînimo, Madrid, SpainSolo
2008Pre-Revolutionary QueerThe Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, INGroup
2008Liverpool BiennialHomotopia CUC, Liverpool, EnglandGroup
2008Ma Bête NoirePhil, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2008Glossolalia: Languages of DrawingMuseum of Modern Art, New York, NYGroup
2008TradePhil, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2007Tom of FinlandInman Gallery, Houston, TXSolo
2006Tom of FinlandGalerie Jean-Luc & Takako Richard, Paris, FranceSolo
2006Tom of FinlandHelsinki City Art Museum, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
2006RoughWestern Project, Culver City, CASolo
2006Coming of AgeCharles Cowles, New York City, NYSolo
2006UnknownPortland Museum of Art, Portland, ORGroup
2005Tom of FinlandGaleria Espacio Minimo, Madrid, SpainSolo
2005Tom of FinlandMaes & Matthys Gallery, Antwerp, BelgiumSolo
2005UnknownArt@Large, New York, NYGroup
2004UnknownJames Kelly Contemporary Museum, Santa Fe, USAGroup
2001Tom of FinlandMark Moore Gallery, Santa Monica, CASolo
2000UnknownWhitechapel Gallery, London, EnglandGroup
2000Made in CaliforniaLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
200010th Anniversary ExhibitionLeslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York, NYGroup
1999Tom of FinlandJames Van Damme Gallery, Brussels, BelgiumSolo
1999Tom of FinlandThe Adventures of Kake, Mark Moore Gallery, Santa MonicaSolo
1999Tom of FinlandThe Most Famous Finn, Finnish Institute, ParisSolo
1999Tom of FinlandJyvaskyla Art Museum, Jyvaskyla, FinlandSolo
1999Tom of FinlandYYZ Artist Outlet, Toronto, CanadaSolo
1999Tom of FinlandTBA, Chicago, ILSolo
1999UnknownPori Art Museum, Pori, FinlandGroup
1999UnknownMark Moore Gallery, Santa Monica, CAGroup
1998UnknownGuggenheim Gallery, Chapman University, Orange, CAGroup
1998UnknownWessel + O'Connor Fine Art, New York, NYGroup
1997Tom of FinlandMark Moore Gallery, Santa Monica, CASolo
1997Tom of FinlandGalleri Lars Boman, Stockholm, SwedenSolo
1997UnknownPatricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica, CAGroup
1997UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1997UnknownThe Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, ScotlandGroup
1997UnknownMeyerson-Nowinski Gallery, Seattle, WAGroup
1997UnknownAkademie der Kunste, Berlin, GermanyGroup
1995Tom of FinlandGalerie Emanuel Perrotin, Paris, FranceSolo
1994Tom of FinlandFeature Inc., New York, NYSolo
1994Tom of FinlandSchwules Museum, Berlin, GermanySolo
1994Tom of FinlandMuseum des Erotik Kunst, Hamburg, GermanySolo
1994Tom of FinlandClub Champion, Canberra, AustraliaSolo
1993Tom of FinlandGallery Daniel Bucholz, Cologne, GermanySolo
1992Tom of FinlandGalerie Pelin, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
1992A Memorial RetrospectiveLeslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York, NYSolo
1992UnknownCasco Gallery, Utrecht, BelgiumGroup
1992Summer Group ExhibitionLeslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York, NYGroup
1992UnknownStuart Regen Gallery, Los AngelesGroup
1991Tom of FinlandAmos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
1991Tom of FinlandFeature Inc., New York, NYSolo
1991UnknownRutgers State University, New Brunswick, NJGroup
1991Amos Andersonin TaidemuseoHelsinki, FinlandGroup
1991UnknownFeature Inc., New York, NYGroup
1991UnknownRosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1991Fetish ArtNational Leather Association, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1991UnknownGalerie Mosabaka, Helsinki, FinlandGroup
1991UnknownWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, NYGroup
1991Private CollectionsLeslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, New York, NYGroup
1991UnknownUniversity of California (Matrix Gallery, Berkeley, CAGroup
1990UnknownCouturier Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1990Wessel O'ConnorNew York, NYGroup
1990MicherWilcox Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
1989Tom of FinlandFeature Inc., New York, NYSolo
1989Matrix GalleryUniversity of California, Berkeley, CAGroup
1989WIWA InternationalCologne, GermanyGroup
1989UnknownNew Museum, New York, NYGroup
1988Tom of FinlandFeature Inc., New York, NYSolo
1988UnknownLeonardo da Vinci Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
1987Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1986Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE)Los Angeles, CAGroup
1986Naked EyesInternational Gay & Lesbian Archives, West Hollywood, CAGroup
1985Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1984Tom of FinlandGalerie Jansen, Berlin, GermanySolo
1984Tom of FinlandAndres Ufer, Berlin, GermanySolo
1983Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1983The BasementNew York, NYGroup
1982Tom of FinlandScore, Los Angeles, CASolo
1982Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1982Tom of FinlandAmbush, San Francisco, CASolo
1982I.E.M.Paris, FranceGroup
1981Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1981Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1980Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1980Tom of FinlandRobert Samuel Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1978Tom of FinlandRob Gallery, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsSolo
1978Tom of FinlandFeyway Studios, San Franisco, CASolo
1978Tom of FinlandEons Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1976Stompers (boot shop)New York, NYGroup
1973Tom of FinlandThe Revolt Press Bookstore, Hamburg, GermanySolo