INTERNATIONAL and HISTORIC HOMOEROTIC HALL of FAME NOMINEE:
The next artist be be honored with a gallery within the HeroesNHunks Homoerotic Hall of Fame (as a noteworthy trailblazing international artist who had a major contribution to the advancement of homoerotic art) is… Tom of Finland.
Once called “the most influential creator of gay pornographic images,” Finnish Artist Touko Laaksonen (8 May 1920 – 7 November 1991), is better known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland. His extraordinary stylized homoerotic fetish art were a great influence on gay culture of the late twentieth century.
Tom of Finland was a prolific artist, producing over 3500 illustrations featuring heavily muscled gay archetypes such as lumberjacks, motorcycle policemen, sailors, soldiers, bikers, and leather-men engaged in the animalisticly fleeting intimate moments preceding or during sex. His hunky illustrations usually wear very little and what they DO wear is always nice and tight and generally partially removed.
At the age of 19, he moved to the country’s capital Helsinki to study advertising, where he also started secretly drawing homoerotic images for his own pleasure. Conscripted into the Finnish Army in February 1940, second lieutenant Touko Laaksonen served as an anti-aircraft officer during the Winter War. In 1945, he returned to studies at the art college, but later attributed much of his fetishistic interest in uniformed men to encounters he had with men in army uniform while serving.
His career as Tom of Finland began In 1956 when the conservative social climate prompted Laaksonen to use the anonymous name “Tom” when he submitted drawings to the influential American magazine Physique Pictorial. His image of two log drivers and a voyeuristic 3rd man was published on the cover and others appeared within the Spring 1957 issue, and the editor credited them to “Tom of Finland.”
From the late-1950s to the early 1960s, his style was definitely cramped by the U.S. censorship codes restricting depiction of “overt homosexual acts.” The outlawing of gay pornography by the conservative and homophobic social culture of the era forced homoerotic publications to disguise themselves as “fitness magazines” until the 1962 Supreme Court case of MANual Enterprises v. Day decreed nude male photographs were no longer obscene. The pretense of being about exercise and fitness was quickly dropped and the newfound freedom allowed Tom of Finland and his contemporaries to publish much more explicit drawings featuring characters with extremely exaggerated anatomical gifts.
Laaksonen’s vision was influenced by the stylized masculinity of the biker subculture that emerged after WWII. Prior to this era, society’s image of gay men was mostly limited to stereotypical effeminate sissies seen in Vaudville and early films. The art of Tom of Finland and his predecessors/influences (George Quaintance and Etienne) and followers both energized and commercialized an underground leather counter-culture which emerged after World War II and was most popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The clothing, styling, and persona adopted by large numbers of gay men of the time illustrate the power of his work. Celebrities such as Glenn Hughes of The Village People and others who sported the Castro Clone look might well have just stepped out of a Tom of Finland drawing. Though the iconic leatherman style has evolved some since the height of its popularity in the mid 80s, Laaksonen’s images are still en vogue and appear regularly in today’s gay publications and on the walls of our bars, clubs and remaining bathhouses.
Not only has Tom of Finland‘s work has been shown in a number of collections in museums internationally, inspired a documentary, and influenced leading artists of his time such as Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Pierre et Gilles and countless film makers, but it has also been appropriated by a number of other artists to inspire new works. Most notably in the late 1970s, Laaksonen’s art graced t-shirts featured at SEX, a popular store run by clothes designer Vivienne Westwood and partner Malcolm McLaren.
Durk Dehner and Touko Laaksonen founded the Tom of Finland Company in 1979 to help Tom control pirating of his work. When the AIDS epidemic hit the gay subculture hard in 1984, the Tom of Finland Foundation was formed as a non-profit educational archive to catalog, preserve, restore, and exhibit erotic art created by homoerotic artists many of whom were stricken and sought ways to preserve their works for posterity.
Tom of Finland’s artwork affected his contemporaries and every homoerotic artist who followed in his footsteps. Without his body of work where would the modern generation of homoerotic artists (Patrick Fillion, Ismael Avlarez, HvH, Carlos Garcia, Glenn Hanson, Michael Breyette, Ian Hanks and Josman to name a few) be? They all owe a debt of thanks to Tom of Finland.
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