Iconic artist Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen) who created some of the most indelible (and erotic) images of twentieth-century gay life that has fueled the fantasies of generations of gay men is born in the village of Kaarina, Finland.
Laaksonen who worked in advertising, became a member of the Helsinki
bohemian set, but avoided the small gay subculture because it was
dominated by flamboyantly effeminate homosexuals. In 1956 Laaksonen
submitted his drawings to the American bodybuilding magazine Physique Pictorial.
The editor was delighted with the work and featured Laaksonen’s drawing
of a lumberjack on the cover of the magazine’s Spring 1957 issue.
At a time when an action as simple as going to a gay bar could mean a
night in jail for homosexuals, the openness and visibility of Tom’s
depictions were especially shocking.
Placed in parks, forests, locker rooms, bars, and prison cells, Tom’s
men seem to wander an array of secluded public spaces but usually not
far from small groups of interested onlookers. Their denim bound
erections, bursting buttons, and turned up short-sleeves can barely
conceal the irrepressible optimism of a gay liberation that was yet to
Although innocently posed in the early years, Tom’s drawings became
more explicit later and they came to take on a more aggressive edge. His
work parallels the gay liberation movement (and the relaxation of
censorship in the face of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s) in that it progresses to depict nudity, the fully erect penis, leather accoutrements, and eventually S&M scenes.
In 1979, with his friend and business manager Durk Dehner, Laaksonen
founded the Tom of Finland Company, which led in 1986 to the creation of
the Tom of Finland Foundation, which is the official archive of Tom’s
work and a collection of gay male erotic art.
Tom of Findland passed away in 1991 but his art lives on.