May 8, 1920 – Iconic artist Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen) who created some of the most indelible (and erotic) images of twentieth-century homoerotica 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 This 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 groundbreaking.
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 come.
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.
Touko Laaksonen passed away in 1991 but Tom of Finland’s art lives on.
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 and to support and encourage emerging erotic artists the Foundation also holds competitions which provides exhibition of their work, publicity and awards and has produced three Tom of Finland Retrospectives.
In 2014 the Finnish postal service released a set of stamps in honor of Tom of Finland. They are considered to be the world’s first stamps depicting homoerotic art.