Touko Valio Laaksonen (1920-1991)



Copyright Touko Valio Laaksonen

Touko Valio Laaksonen (1920-1991) Better known by his public moniker Tom of Finland was a Finnish artist known for homoerotic and sadomasochistic drawings. Touko began to draw as a child and was aware of his homosexuality at the time. During World War II he served in the Finnish Army. From 1940 thru 1944 Finland was an ally of Nazi Germany. Wermacht troops were stationed all over his native land. He was fascinated and aroused by what he saw as the beauty in the German uniforms. Later he admitted he hated the Nazis and resented their presence but was aroused by their garments. In the early 20th Century gays were too often portrayed as weak, passive, docile and androgynous in popular culture. Laaksonen sought to show another side by drawing macho figures. He loved to draw soldiers, sailors, lumberjacks,construction workers, police officers, bikers and leathermen. He was enthralled by hyper masculine movie characters such as Marlon Brando and fellow bikers in On The Waterfront. He also loved the 1950s teddy boy trend which was popular among British working class teenage males. It was in his spare time while in the service that he drew explicit drawings in his spare time. In 1956 he submitted his first drawing to an American magazine. It was the rag Physique Portal. During that decade censorship laws were still very strict. While his drawings to that publication were somewhat tameat the time it was one of the few places he could display his talent without causing trouble. Up until 1968 when pornography was decriminalized the States he would use the practice of placing his work in brown paper bags and sending them clandestinely to stores and underground publications. In 1962 the US Supreme Court Case MANual vs Day ruled male nudity was not obscene. This allowed some freedom at the time for artists and photographers to work. As time passed and censorship laws became more lax it was easier for him to work. In 1973 he quit his job at the Helsinki office of the advertising firm McCann-Erickson. By this time he had established such a following it allowed him to work full time as an artist. He even developed a friendship with American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) and the German publishing house Taschen.

In the late 1960s he created a comic strip character name Kake who was a gay male prototype of his drawings who had many erotic adventures.

Two notable publications featuring his work are Daddy and the Muscle Academy-the Art, Life and Times of Tom of Finland and Tom of Finland the Pleasure of Play. He is mentioned in the Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Culture. In 1984 the Tom of Finland Foundation was created to give a better understanding of both gay and gay S&M culture. The Foundation has a home in a residential section of the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. The center of offers tours for a small fee where patrons and see examples of his work and donate to keep his legacy alive. Original works by Laaksonen can be seen at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago. In the USA his work has been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York City Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.By coincidence the above mentioned cities have been the major metro areas for the commercial BDSM/fetish industry. Tom of Finland drawings have been seen in museums in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm. In film he and his work have been depicted in the 1991 documentary made in 1991 by Filmitakomo about his Muscle Academy book from the 1970s and in 2013 Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukowski made a biopic about Laaksonen which was released in 2017. In 2014 the Finnish Postal Service Itella Posti released three stamps featuring his work. They became the more purchased of Finland stamps by collectors worldwide in history. In 1991 Laaksonen died of a stroke brought on by emphysema. To learn more about him and his work seewww.tomoffinlandfoundation.org.

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