Even ardent fans of Tom of Finland might wonder whether his life story could possibly rival the allure of his famously bulging gay erotica. It most surely does. The film begins during World War II, during which Tom shares a secret sex life with many fellow soldiers as they await invasion. When Tom ends up killing a Russian paratrooper in a lonely field, the specter of the young man haunts him and eventually inspires the principal leather-clad character in Tom’s art. The story continues on — through Tom’s search for love in homophobic times and places, ultimately leading him to America where he is surprised to learn his drawings have made him something of a celebrity.
Performed in nearly equal parts Finnish and English, this first-rate production captures one man’s personal journey, the evolving gay experience of the last 70 years and the power of Tom’s creations.
THE WORD: The true focus of the film is the story behind Tom’s important, irrepressible work. COMING TO: Theaters
Watch the interview with Durk Dehner, president and cofounder, Tom of Finland Foundation.
Tom of Finland opens in cinemas across the UK on 11th August, but there was more than just hypermasculinity to the Nordic artist.
In an exclusive interview with Durk Dehner, cofounder and president of Tom of Finland Foundation, we heard plenty of insightful tales about the gay icon where it was revealed he even came close to becoming Tom of London.
By the late 1960s Tom (born Touko Laaksonen) had made plenty of visits to the UK capital and thrown himself into the emerging underground leather scene, one which he had heavily influenced through his erotic art. Along with friend and leather club entrepreneur Felix Jones, he embraced a fetish flourishing London and was close to permanently sharpening his pencil in the big smoke.
However, restrictions in the British postal service proved too invasive and would have called a halt on the artists already well established homoerotic mailing operation.
Tom was distributing his work way before the internet, PayPal or buy-with-one-click even existed. He would create a printed catalogue with around 40-50 of his recent drawing and distribute around the world to an established and trusted network. Replying with a list of their selected prints, clients would include payment often in their own currency leaving the artist to act as Bureau de Change.
But it worked; his macho fetish drawings were making their way across the globe, almost on an unconscious mission to start revolution and influence gay culture.
Dehner first clasped his eyes on a Tom drawing in a Leather bar called The Spike in New York City and like most reactions to the stimulating art, it hauled his attention. Whilst working as a male model, being photographed by no other than Bruce Webber, Durk wrote a fan letter to Tom which was the origin of a yearlong pen pals friendship with the pair eventually meeting in 1978 just before the artist’s first US exhibition.
Through building a treasured relationship which crossed boundaries from professional, personal and intimate, together spread the fetish word, steadily building the Tom of Finland brand which today lends its name to condoms, oven mitts, bath towels and coffee (oh and cock rings, nipple clamps and handcuffs).
We’re sure there’s plenty more stories which we’ll never know about the man behind the giant graphite gentiles but we’re certainly more educated than when we first caught a glimpse of those fine Finnish exports.