Tom of Finland

Tom of Finland
Touko Laaksonen
a.k.a. Tom of Finland
Birth name Touko Laaksonen
Born 8 May 1920
Kaarina, Finland
Died November 7, 1991(1991-11-07) (aged 71)
Helsinki, Finland
Nationality Finland
Field Drawing
Influenced by George Quaintance, Etienne[1][2]
Influenced Robert Mapplethorpe, Paul Cadmus, David Hockney, Andy Warhol[3][4]

Touko Laaksonen, best known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland (8 May 1920 – 7 November 1991) was a Finnish artist notable for his stylized androerotic and fetish art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade.[3]

Over the course of four decades he produced some 3500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits: heavily muscled torsos, limbs, and buttocks, and large penises. Tight or partially removed clothing showed off these traits, with the penis often visible as a bulge 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. Nearly all of his characters were versatile and obviously enjoyed the bottom as well as the top role in sexual intercourse.[5]



Early life and education

Laaksonen was born and raised by a middle-class family in Kaarina, a city in southwestern Finland, near the city of Turku.[6]

He studied in Turku and in 1939 he moved to the country's capital Helsinki to study advertising, he also started drawing erotic images for his own pleasure.[6] He first kept his drawings hidden, but then destroyed them "at least by the time I went to serve the army".[7] His drawings were based on images of masculine laborers he had seen from an early age. The country soon became embroiled in the Winter War with the USSR, and then formally involved in World War II. He was conscripted in February 1940 into the Finnish Army.[6] He served as an anti-aircraft officer, holding the rank of a second lieutenant.[8] He later attributed his fetishistic interest in uniformed men to encounters with men in army uniform, especially soldiers of the German Wehrmacht serving in Finland at that time. After the war, in 1945, he returned to studies at the art college.[6]

Laaksonen's artwork of this period compared to later works is considered more romantic and softer with "gentle-featured shapes and forms".[6] The men featured were middle-class compared to the lower-class sailors, bikers, lumberjacks, construction workers, etc. of his later work.[6] Another key difference is the lack of dramatic compositions, self-assertive poses, muscular bodies and "detached exotic settings" that his later work embodied.[6]

Early career

In 1956 Laaksonen submitted drawings to the influential American magazine Physique Pictorial which premiered the images in the Spring 1957 issue under the pseudonym Tom, as it resembled his given name Touko; he was also featured as the cover artist with an illustration of two log drivers at work.[6] The editor of the magazine credited them to Tom of Finland.[9] The cover image included a third workingman in the background watching the two log drivers. Pulled from Finnish mythology of lumberjacks representing strong masculinity, Laaksonen emphasized and privileged "homoerotic potentiality [...] relocating it in a gay context", a strategy repeated throughout his career.[6]

Post World War II saw the rise of the biker culture as rejecting "the organization and normalization of life after the war, with its conformist, settled lifestyle."[2][10] Biker subculture was both marginal and oppositional and provided postwar gay men with a stylized masculinity that included rebelliousness and danger which were absent from dominant gay stereotypes.[2] In mainstream culture the strongest image of gay men was generally the effeminate sissy as seen in vaudeville and films going back to the first years of the industry.[11] Laaksonen was influenced by images of bikers as well as artwork of George Quaintance and Etienne, among others, that he cited as his precursors; they were "disseminated to gay readership through homoerotic physique magazines" starting in 1950.[1][2] Laaksonen's drawings of bikers and leathermen capitalized on the leather and denim outfits which differentiated those men from mainstream culture and suggested they were untamed, physical, and self-empowered.[12][13] This is contrasted with the mainstream, medical and psychological sad and sensitive young gay man who is passive.[13][14] Laaksonen's drawings of this time "can be seen as consolidating an array of factors, styles and discourses already existing in the 1950s gay subcultures," this may have led to them being widely distributed and popularized in gay culture.[15]

U.S. censorship codes (1950s-1960s)

Laaksonen's style and content in the late-1950s and early 1960s was partly influenced by the U.S. censorship codes that restricted depiction of "overt homosexual acts."[15] His work was published in the beefcake genre that began in the 1930s and predominantly featured photographs of attractive, muscular young men in athletic poses often shown demonstrating exercises.[16] Their primary market was gay men, but because of the conservative and homophobic social culture of the era gay pornography was illegal and the publications were typically presented as dedicated to physical fitness and health.[16] They were often the only connection that closeted men had to their sexuality.[16] By this time however Laaksonen was rendering private commissions so more explicit work was produced but remained unpublished.[15]

In the 1962 case of MANual Enterprises v. Day the United States Supreme Court ruled that nude male photographs were not obscene.[17] Softcore gay pornography magazines and films featuring fully nude models, some of them tumescent, quickly appeared and the pretense of being about exercise and fitness was dropped as controls on pornography were reduced.[16][18] By the end of the 1960s the market for beefcake magazines collapsed.[16] Laaksonen was able to publish his more overtly homoerotic work and it changed the context with "new possibilities and conventions for displaying frontal male nudity in magazines and movies."[15] Laaksonen reacted by publishing more explicit drawings and stylized his figures' fantastical aspects with exaggerated physical aspects, particularly their genitals and muscles.[15]

He is best known for works that focused on homomasculine archetypes such as lumberjacks, motorcycle policemen, sailors, bikers, and leathermen. His most prominent comic series are the "Kake" comics, which included these archetypal characters in abundance.

Gay mainstream appeal (1970s)

Laaksonen's work had predominantly been segmented to private collectors and collections seen only by consumers who sought out the underground gay pornography industry. With the decriminalization of male nudity gay pornography became more mainstream in gay cultures. Laaksonen's drawings also came to the attention of mainstream gay communities, and by 1973, he was both publishing erotic comic books and making inroads to the mainstream art world with exhibitions. In 1973 he gave up his full-time job at the Helsinki office of McCann-Erickson, an international advertising firm. "Since then I've lived in jeans and lived on my drawings," is how he described the lifestyle transition which occurred during this period.

By the mid-1970 he was also emphasizing a photorealism style making aspects of the drawings appear more photographic.[15] Many of his drawings are based on photographs, but none are exact reproductions of them.[19] The photographic inspiration is used, on the one hand, to create lifelike, almost moving images, with convincing and active postures and gestures while Laaksonen exaggerates physical features and presents his ideal of masculine beauty and sexual allure, combining realism with fantasy.[19] In Daddy and the Muscle Academy - The Art, Life, and Times of Tom of Finland examples of photographs and the drawings based upon them are shown side by side.[19]

In 1979, Laaksonen with businessman and friend Durk Dehner co-founded the Tom of Finland Company, which became the Tom of Finland Foundation dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting homoerotic artwork.[20] Although Laaksonen was quite successful at this point with his biography on the best-seller list and Benedikt Taschen, the world's largest art book publisher had to reprint and expand a monograph of his works, he was most proud of the foundation.[21] The scope of the organization expanded to erotic works of all types, sponsored contests, exhibits and started the groundwork for a museum of erotic art.[21]

In the late 1990s, the company introduced a fashion line based on his works, which covers a wide array of looks besides the typified cutoff-jeans-and-jacket style of his drawings. The fashion line balances the original homoeroticism of the drawings with mainstream fashion culture, and their runway shows occur in many of the venues during the same times as other fashion companies.

Cover of the Daddy and the Muscle Academy: The Life and Art of Tom of Finland biography

The company produced a 1991 video biography, Daddy and the Muscle Academy: The Life and Art of Tom of Finland.[3] By the late 1980s Laaksonen was well known in the gay world but his "pneumatically muscled, meticulously rendered monster-donged icons of masculinity" received mainstream attention when the film - which includes hundreds of images of his work along with interviews - was shown on Finnish national TV, won a Finnish Jussi Award in its category in 1992 and was shown at film festivals worldwide.[21][22][23][24] While praising the artwork's quality one critic noted the film focussed on lauding Laaksonen as a gay pride icon while ignoring "resemblance to both S & M pornography and Fascist art" which she tied to Finland's early sexual experiences with German soldiers during World War II.[24]


During his lifetime and beyond, Laaksonen's work has drawn both admiration and disdain from different quarters of the artistic community. Laaksonen developed a friendship with gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work depicting sado-masochism and fetish iconography was also subject to controversy.

A controversial theme in his drawings was the erotic treatment of men in Nazi uniforms. They form a small part of his overall work, but the typically flattering visual treatment of these characters has led some viewers to infer sympathy or affinity for Nazism, and they have been omitted from most recent anthologies of his work. Later in his career Laaksonen disavowed this work and was at pains to dissociate himself and his work from fascist or racist ideologies. He also depicted a significant number of black men in his drawings, with no overt racial or political message in the context in which they appear; although they bear some commonality with racist caricatures of the "hypersexual" black male, these traits are shared by Laaksonen's white characters as well.

Art critics have mixed views about Laaksonen's work. His detailed drawing technique has led to him being described as a 'master with a pencil', while in contrast a reviewer for Dutch newspaper Het Parool described his work as 'illustrative but without expressivity'.[25]

There is considerable argument over whether his depiction of 'supermen' (male characters with huge sexual organs and muscles) is facile and distasteful, or whether there is a deeper complexity in the work which plays with and subverts those stereotypes. For example, some critics have noted examples of apparent tenderness between traditionally tough, masculine characters, or playful smiles in sado-masochistic scenes.

In either case, there remains a large constituency who admire the work on a purely utilitarian basis, as described by Rob Meijer, owner of a leathershop and art gallery in Amsterdam, "These works are not conversation pieces, they're masturbation pieces."

Cultural impact and legacy

Tom of Finland memorial room with his personal belongings at the Foundation's house, Los Angeles 2002; photographed by Henning von Berg

Laaksonen's work revived and commercialized an underground leather counter-culture which emerged after World War II and reached its height in the late 1970s and early 1980s before the emergence of AIDS in the gay community.[citation needed]

The apparel, styling, and demeanour adopted by large numbers of gay men during that period, such as Glenn Hughes of The Village People and the Castro Clone look, appear to be derived directly from his work.[citation needed] Although the prevalence of this 'look' has declined since the mid-1980s, Laaksonen's work continues to be used extensively in gay publications, bars, clubs, and online communities who associate with its erotic subject matter.

In the late 1970s, clothes designer Vivienne Westwood appropriated Laaksonen's art for t-shirts which were featured at SEX, the store run by Westwood and partner Malcolm McLaren. The t-shirts were modeled by Sex Pistol bassist Sid Vicious, and became an iconic part of punk history in the process.

In the late 1980s, artist G. B. Jones began a series of drawings called the "Tom Girls" that appropriated both Tom of Finland's drawings and Vivienne Westwood's exploitation of them. The drawings were done in the style of Tom of Finland and based on his drawings, but featured punk girls or other subculturally identified women. However, unlike Tom's drawings, in Jones' work the authority figures exist only to be undermined, not obeyed. The two artists showed together in New York City in the early 1990s.

In 1999, an exhibition took place at the Institut Culturel Finlandais (Finnish Cultural Centre) in Paris.

New York's Museum of Modern Art has acquired several examples of Laaksonen's artwork for its permanent collection.[26]

In 2011 there is a large retrospective exhibition of Laaksonen's artwork in Turku, Finland. The exhibition is one of the official events in Turku's European Capital of Culture programme.[27]

Tom of Finland Foundation

In 1984, the nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational archive, Tom of Finland Foundation (ToFF) was established by the artist Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, 1920 – 1991) and Durk Dehner. As Tom had established worldwide recognition as the master of homoerotic art, the Foundation's original purpose was to preserve his vast catalog of work. Several years later the scope was widened to offer a safe haven for all erotic art in response to rampant discrimination against art that portrayed sexual behavior or generated a sexual response. ToFF continues in its efforts of educating the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art and in promoting healthier, more tolerant attitudes about sexuality.

The Foundation's Mission Statement: "Tom of Finland Foundation (ToFF) is dedicated to protect, preserve, document and educate the public about erotic art and erotic artists. ToFF shall continue to encourage the work of erotic visual artists regardless of race, creed, religion, gender, sexual identity, medium of expression or any other censoring criteria."

The permanent collection of ToFF contains more than 2,000 original works by Tom of Finland, and another 1,500 by hundreds of other artists, and the archives, with well over 500,000 images, documents, and memorabilia, together comprise the world’s largest repository of erotic art. Located in a 1906 Craftsman residence, TOM House, the Foundation maintains a revolving exhibition of over 150 different works from the permanent collection. Collectors, students, researchers, and the general public visit the House by appointment. Within the House is the artist’s sleeping room and studio where he created much of his work during the final period of his career.

ToFF receives royalties[28] from the sale of licensed reproductions of Laaksonen's work. In 2008, eight works from the Foundation's permanent collection were stolen during a European travelling exhibition, some being onsold. The Foundation later reported that the owners of the Keith Talent gallery in London, the exhibition's appointed UK representatives, had been arrested and charged for the crime.[29] According to Tucker Neel of Artillery Magazine, "Because the two dealers had no priors and had lost all credibility in their profession, Clarkin’s 10 month, and Pittuck’s 14 month, prison sentences were suspended and they were ordered to each carry out 150 hours of community service, and pay £5,700 to the collector to whom they sold the drawings, as well as over £1,000 in legal fees."[30]

TOM OF FINLAND® is a registered trademark of Tom of Finland Foundation, Inc.and protected under international copyright law, Geneva Convention, 1982. Tom of Finland® Foundation, Inc., Los Angeles, California USA.


Etat Libre d’Orange has created, in partnership with Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, an eau de parfum with a selection of Tom’s most famous iconic drawings hidden inside the packaging.


  • Ilppo Pohjola (author): Kari Paljakka and Alvaro Pardo (producers): Daddy and the Muscle Academy: Tom of Finland: United Kingdom: Oracle Home Entertainment: 2002

Duration of Feature: 93 Minutes. Also features frames of Laaksonen's graphic art.

See also


  1. ^ a b Kalin 1990, pp. 111; Hooven 1993, pp. 84-85.
  2. ^ a b c d Löfström, pp. 190.
  3. ^ a b c Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide, Volume 2 Joseph W. Slade, pp. 545/6, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001; ISBN 0313275688, 9780313275685.
  4. ^ Homoerotic history: Tom of Finland Craig Young,, 12 May 2007.
  5. ^ Arell, Berndt; Mustola, Kati (2006), Tom of Finland: Ennennäkemätöntä - Unforeseen, Like, ISBN 952-471-843-X 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Löfström, pp. 189.
  7. ^ Arell & Mustola, p. 15
  8. ^ Bio at TOFFoundation
  9. ^ Arell & Mustola, p. 31. This followed the naming conventions of the magazine. Other pseudonyms of the time were Bruce of Los Angeles and Spartan of Hollywood, for example.
  10. ^ Suarez, 1996, pp. 150.
  11. ^ The Celluloid Closet; Directors: Rob Epstein , Jeffrey Friedman (1996) UPC: 043396821071.
  12. ^ Suarez, 1996, pp. 152, 158.
  13. ^ a b Löfström, pp. 190-1.
  14. ^ Suarez, 1996, pp. 152, 158.; Dyer 1983
  15. ^ a b c d e f Löfström, pp. 191.
  16. ^ a b c d e Beefcake (1999); Thom Fitzgerald, writer, director, co-producer; Shandi Mitchell, co-producer; Alliance Independent Films.
  17. ^ MANual Enterprises v. Day, 370 U.S. 478 in 1962; Barron, Jerome A. and Dienes, C. Thomas, First Amendment Law, St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 1993, ISBN 0314025812 ; Streitmatter, Rodger and Watson, John C., "Herman Lynn Womack: Pornographer as First Amendment Pioneer," Journalism History, 28:56 (Summer 2002).
  18. ^ Waugh, Thomas, Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from Their Beginnings to Stonewall, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, ISBN 0231099983.
  19. ^ a b c Ilppo Pohjola (author): Kari Paljakka and Alvaro Pardo (producers): Daddy and the Muscle Academy: Tom of Finland: United Kingdom: Oracle Home Entertainment: 2002.
  20. ^ Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Popular Culture Luca Prono, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008; ISBN 0313335990, 9780313335990. pp. 258.
  21. ^ a b c Gay histories and cultures: an encyclopedia Volume 2 of Encyclopedia of lesbian and gay histories and cultures F. Valentine Nooven III, pp. 884; George E. Haggerty, editor; Taylor & Francis, 2000; ISBN 0815333544, 9780815333548.
  22. ^ Edinburgh International Film Festival highlights The Independent, Friday, 14 August 1992.
  23. ^ Seattle Film Festival: Special events Seattle Times, May 7, 1992.
  24. ^ a b Festival Diary: Bad karma and the Big Yin: The Billy Connolly Affair and trouble and strife with The Bay City Rollers. Sheila Johnston reports from the 46th Edinburgh International Film Festival Sheila Johnston, The Independent, 21 August 1992.
  25. ^ The Queer Encyclopedia Of The Visual Arts, Claude J. Summers, Cleis Press, 2004; ISBN 1573441910, 9781573441919.
  26. ^ Arell & Mustola, p. 187
  27. ^
  28. ^ Tom of Finland Foundation
  29. ^
  30. ^ Neel, Tucker. Artillery Magazine. Nov./Dec. 2010 Vol. 5 Issue 2. "To Catch A Thief: Why it’s not a good idea to steal from muscled men in leather and chains"


  • Arell, Berndt; Mustola, Kati (2006), Tom of Finland: Ennennäkemätöntä - Unforeseen, Like, ISBN 952-471-843-X 
  • Hooven, F. Valentine. Tom of Finland: His Life and Times. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. ISBN 031209325X
  • Kalin, K (1990). Tom of Finland, Interview with Touko Laaksonen, Image, 3, 104-119.
  • Löfström, Jan (1998), Scandinavian homosexualities: essays on gay and lesbian studies: Journal of homosexuality, Volume 35, Issues 3-4, Routledge, ISBN 0789005085, 9780789005083; pp. 189-206 
  • Ramakers, Mischa. Dirty Pictures: Tom of Finland, Masculinity and Homosexuality. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001. ISBN 0312205260
  • Suarez, J.A., (1996); Bike Boys, Drag Queens, Superstars: Avant Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s Underground Cinema; Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
  • Tom of Finland: The Art of Pleasure. Mischa Ramakers, ed. London: Taschen, 1998, ISBN 3822885983
  • Tom of Finland: The Comic Collection. Vol. 1-5. Dian Hanson, ed. London: Taschen, 2005. ISBN 3822383497

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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