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Tom of Finland Biography

Regarded as one of the most influential producers of gay pornographic images, Tom of Finland made highly masculinised homoerotic art using graphite, ink, and gouache on paper.

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He produced over 3,500 illustrations over the course of four decades and is regarded a significant figure of gay liberation in the 20th century.

Early Years

Born Touko Laaksonen, Tom of Finland grew up in an environment of art, music, and literature. The Finish countryside he roamed in during his younger years was rough and wild, inhabited by men who worked in the outdoors, doing manual labour. As a young boy, the artist was captivated by these men and memorised the shapes of their muscular figures.

In 1939, Tom of Finland attended correspondence courses at a school of marketing and advertising. He began to draw erotic illustrations for his own amusement, but destroyed them when he joined the Finnish Army. In 1940, he began working in an anti-aircraft unit in Helsinki, where he often observed construction workers, policemen, and sailors at work.

Tom of Finland served as second lieutenant in the army and continued to find artistic inspiration in uniformed men by drawing them. In 1945, he left the army and resumed his studies in art and advertising.

Physique Pictorial Magazine

In 1956, the artist submitted some of his work to a popular American muscle magazine called Physique Pictorial. The work was signed under the pseudonym of 'Tom', which soon changed to 'Tom of Finland' when the editor used his drawing of a lumberjack for the cover of the magazine in 1957.

Tom of Finland Artworks

From a teenager, Tom of Finland produced what he referred to as 'dirty drawings'. His skilful drawings of macho men indulging in acts of homoerotic desire became a powerful force of change in liberation movements and helped to promote healthier, more accepting attitudes towards sexuality.

Demand for Tom of Finland's work rose after it was featured in Physique Pictorial. Although erotic art did not pay well and the United States censorship codes of the 1950s and 60s prohibited homosexual pornography, the artist continued to produce photorealistic work that depicted gay sexual fantasies.

The Kake Comics

In 1968, the artist created a character called Kake, a moustached leatherman who enjoyed explicit gay sex and travelled the world by motorbike. Many of Tom of Finland's personal fantasies were lived out through Kake and his escapades. The comic strips depict Kake enjoying sex with uniformed men like sailors, lifeguards, cowboys, and policemen.

The Kake comics became extremely popular. Between 1968 and 1986, Tom of Finland published 26 episodes of Kake's adventures. In 2008, Taschen published a book of The Complete Kake Comics (1968—1986), celebrating Tom of Finland's artwork.

Film

Directed by Ilppo Pohjola in 1991, Daddy and the Muscle Academy is a documentary that traces the career of Tom of Finland. The film focuses on how the artist's iconic imagery had a powerful effect on gay consciousness in the 20th century.

Awards and Accolades

Tom of Finland's artwork is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Designers, such as Vivienne Westwood, and the perfume company État Libre d'Orange have used his unique illustrations as part of their collections and campaigns.

The Tom of Finland Foundation was established in 1984 to preserve the artist's catalogue of work and educate the public as to the cultural merits of erotic art.

In 2017, the Tom of Finland Foundation launched Tom of Finland Vodka, premium vodka artistically crafted in Finland. Proceeds from the vodka go towards the non-profit Tom of Finland foundation.

Exhibitions

Tom of Finland has exhibited widely.

Select solo exhibitions include Tom of Finland: Pen and Ink 1965—1989, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2021); Tom of Finland: The Darkroom, Fotografiska, New York (2021); Tom of Finland: 100 Years, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2020); Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland, Gallery X, Tokyo (2020); TOM House: The Work and Life of Tom of Finland, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (2018); The Man Behind Tom of Finland: Loves and Lives, Salon Dahlmann, Berlin (2017); Early Work 1944–1972, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2015).

Select group exhibitions include The Beatitudes of Malibu, David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles (2021); Camp: Notes on Fashion, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (2019); Art & Porn, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus and Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2019); The Foundation of the Museum: MOCA's Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (2019); Please Fasten Your Seat Belt As We Are Experiencing Some Turbulence, Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai (2017); Olympia, Galerie Patrick Seguin, Paris (2016); Dirty Frames, MUU Gallery, Helsinki (2014); Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland, MOCA, Los Angeles (2013); Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2013).

Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2021

Tom of Finland
featured artworks

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Untitled (from Kake vol. 19 - Curious Captain) by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Tom of Finland Untitled (from Kake vol. 19 - "Curious Captain"), 1975 Pen and ink on paper
29.5 x 21 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, photography
Tom of Finland Untitled, c. 1966 Mixed media on paper
29.8 x 21.3 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled (from Trucker's Delivery Series) by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Tom of Finland Untitled (from Trucker's Delivery Series), 1965 Pen and ink on paper
22.9 x 17.1 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Tom of Finland Untitled, c. 1982 Graphite on found newsprint
21.6 x 20.3 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, photography, drawing
Tom of Finland Untitled, c. 1972 Graphite and mixed media on paper
29.8 x 21.3 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, photography
Tom of Finland Untitled, c. 1966 Mixed media on paper
29.8 x 21.3 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
Untitled (Preparatory Drawing) by Tom of Finland contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Tom of Finland Untitled (Preparatory Drawing), c. 1980 Graphite on paper
27.9 x 21.6 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Request Price & Availability
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Tom of Finland
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David Kordansky Gallery contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, United States
David Kordansky Gallery Los Angeles, New York

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