Tom of Finland: The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero
Tom of Finland (born Tuoko Laaksonen, 1920–1991), was an iconic and groundbreaking artist who rose to cult status in the international queer community and beyond for his work celebrating the male figure and masculinity during a time when being gay was taboo. “Although he never attended a march or waved a banner at a demonstration, in the second half of the 20th century no one did more for the furthering of gay pride than Tom did,” said F. Valentine Hooven, III. “Many may have forgotten, or never knew, the shameful stereotypes of queer people that were once damn near universally believed and which Tom deliberately combated with each stroke of his pencil.”
Untitled, 1974, marker on paper, exhibit: Love and Liberation
Created in partnership with Tom of Finland Foundation, Tom of Finland: The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero is a beautifully detailed account full of never, or rarely seen, materials from his archive. The text was completed just a few months before the death of the artist and he was interviewed at length for it — making this book the only fully approved biography of the legend responsible for creating the muscled, mustachioed gay archetype of the 1960s and ’70s. “Tom and Valentine certainly had a great rapport. With both of them having so much trust in each other, and that there is so much in The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero that is in Tom’s own words, this work truly has a personal, autobiographical feel to it. I am so pleased that we are able to release this special 2020 edition for the anniversary of Tom’s birth,” says Durk Dehner, president and cofounder, Tom of Finland Foundation. “I know Tom would be pleased, too!”
Tom’s Marine, 1982, graphite on paper, exhibit: The Darkroom
Memories of Tom
Tom of Finland, the artist and man, was born, raised and lived most of his life in his native Finland, dying there in 1991 at the age of 71. I was in my mid-twenties when Tom and I started corresponding back in 1976 and was ripe and ready to experience the messages he portrayed in his works. Tom quickly became the most important person to influence my life to that date. I discovered through his work that I was as much of a man as any of my heterosexual counterparts and that sex and love between men could be a heroic bonding experience – not unlike that of Greek and Roman soldiers.
Untitled, 1962, graphite on paper, exhibit: Love and Liberation
Tom’s favorite character, “Kake”, was always just as willing to get his hole plowed as he was to do the plowing and clearly sent the message out that sex between men is just plain manly – no matter what position one takes. By his characters’ actions Tom showed unbridled sexual passion between men and, afterwards, a brotherhood and camaraderie. His drawings also encouraged guys to experiment and push boundaries, to do anything to turn your partner on and get him off.
Untitled, 1963, graphite on paper, exhibit: Love and Liberation
Tom – along with the physique photographers of the ’50s – have finally been acknowledged as the men responsible for creating the image of the Leatherman that persists to this day. Tom created – and chronicled – this era. His drawings not only rocked the boundaries of the gay community of the time but also spread into the straight leather biker clubs of England, Germany and, eventually, the U.S. Tom’s Leatherman image has manifested itself as a style of clothes, build, attitude and lifestyle.
Untitled (from Kake vol. 16 “Sex on the Train”), 1974, pen and ink on paper
In Tom, we have a grandfather of sorts to share with younger generations and if Tom were here today his message would be to stay young at heart. (In fact, Tom continued to frequent the leather and dancing scene well into his sixties). Tom would also tell both men and women that when they are in the heat of sexual arousal and they look at that special guy, his cock looks as big and delicious as any Tom ever drew himself.
— Durk Dehner
Untitled (from Kake vol. 19 – “Curious Captain”), 1975, gouache, pen and ink on paper, exhibit: Love and Liberation
Untitled, 1979, pen and ink on paper, exhibit: Love and Liberation
Untitled (from “Sightseeing the Guards”), 1973, pen and ink on paper, exhibit: The Darkroom
Untitled, 1984, silver gelatin on paper, exhibit: The Darkroom
Untitled (reference page), 1973, cut-and-pasted photograph, graphite, cut-and-pasted paper, exhibit: The Darkroom
Untitled (reference page), 1973, cut-and-pasted photograph, graphite, cut-and-pasted paper on paper, exhibit: The Darkroom
Stompers gallery owner, Louis Weingarten, Tom, Dom, and Durk, Stompers (boot shop), New York City, 1978. Photo: Andrew J. Epstein
Portrait of Tom of Finland, 1978, photograph, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation