Touko Laaksonen, one the most known picture artist from Finland, was born in Kaarina 8.5.1920. He has been called the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images” by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade and his work had significant impact on the late 20th century gay culture.
Touko was born in a small town in southwestern Finland, where he grew up with four siblings together with his father and mother. The country was still rough and times were wild, since Finland had been independent only for 3 years from his birth. Touko grew up among men who worked in the woods and fields, the farmers and loggers, but in his childhood he was not part of this world. His parents raise him in close relations with art, literature and music, which was a good atmosphere for young and talented boy. But there had been said that he loved those outdoors men even more, and maybe there was his early inspiration for his later artworks. He graduated from high school and 1939, at the age of 19, he moved from Kaarina to Helsinki to study advertising. He started to draw in his free time, images of the male workers, police men, sailors and construction workers, but these artworks he kept highly secret with himself. Later on he even destroyed them, before joining army on 1940. Three months after the outbreak of World War II, a conflict between with Finland and Soviet Union started the Winter War on 1939. Touko was conscripted to Finnish army with over 300.000 Finnish solders. Later in his life, he confessed that the interest to the uniforms was born in the army, especially because of the German soldiers “In my drawings I have no political statements to make, no ideology. I am thinking only about the picture itself. The whole Nazi philosophy, the racism and all that, is hateful to me, but of course I drew them anyway—they had the sexiest uniforms!”
After the war in 1945, Touko went back to his studies and continued life in Helsinki. He was a freelancer artist who did advertising, window displays and fashion design, but the evenings he spent at the parties and cafes playing piano, avoiding the “fledgling gay scene”. Although, in the movie, “Tom of Finland” made out of Touko Laaksonen and his life, they represent how he found the attractiveness to men during these times, and how he started to experiment this need. He met he met the man, Veli in 1953, and with him he spent the next 28 years with.
Touko’s early artwork was softer and more careful than the art that he is known of. More romantic pictures without overdraw muscles and sexy uniforms. At the end of 1956, he created the secret name to himself, also easier for English language, “Tom”. He sent his artworks to popular American muscle magazine, and the editor loved them. Already at the 1957, cover of the spring issue of “Physique Pictorial”, was a half naked lumberjack, with a muscular body, and there was born the “Tom of Finland”. And for the rest of Touko’s history, he was known by that name. He continued his art, travelling and gaining his name to become one of the most known homoerotic artists in Finland. In the 1973, he gave up his fulltime job in Helsinki, “Since then I’ve lived in jeans and lived on my drawings,” is how he described the lifestyle transition which occurred during this period.
Inspiration for Tom of Finland artworks was powerful, masculine males that were not the stereotypical appearance of the gay men at these times. He consciously chose masculine types to his artworks, also including rebelling features, like men in the motorcycle wearing leather clothes. In late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Touko created lot of explicit work that was not being published, since the conservative and homophobic social culture of the era, gay pornography was illegal. After the discrimination of that, the gay pornography became more popular and mainstream, and Touko continued his work. In 1970’s he started to draw erotic comic books and he had his first art show in porn store in Hamburg. One of the most known character of his artwork is Kake, that he used in the comic series “Kake”. In that time he also started to create more photorealistic artworks, based on real photos and most of them he took himself. Allthough he kept the style of underline the masculine features of his characters. In 1979 he stated a Tom of Finland Company with his close friend and colleague Durk Dehner and in 1984 the foundation of Tom of Finland started to collect and present the homoerotic art.
In 1991 Touko Laaksonen passed away due to an emphysema-induced stroke. His cultural impact and legacy was still there to stay. His artworks were a huge impact to a gay culture, and after his dead there were many exhibitions of his work in many states of USA, in Finland, France, Sweden and England. There were movies and plays, latest the Helsinki film produced a movie of his life in 2017. Finland published postmarks from his art that were sent even to foreign correspondent to Russia, which were against the gay propaganda law of Russia, according to St. Petersburg City Councilor Vitali Milonov. In Finland, in the past few years the name of the Tom of Finland has gain even more knowledge, and there is several manufacture of products with his art, e.g. postcards, sheets, bags, coffee. People, especially LGTB group, are still carrying his legacy and heritage.
Check out more artworks from Tom of Finland: https://www.artsy.net/artist/tom-of-finland