When Touko Laaksonen was a young man, homosexuals had no public image because homosexuality was not discussed in the 1930s. That didn’t stop Tuoko from fantasizing about the loggers and farmers of his bucolic Finnish village — and it didn’t stop him from using these men as the inspiration for his drawings of burly men rough-housing, wrestling and engaging in more intimate physical acts. Touko eventually found work in advertising, but sent his illustrations to the major American physical fitness and muscle mags of the day, signing his work with the easier-to-pronounce “Tom.” The burgeoning gay community fell in love with Tom of Finland’s work not just because of his hyper-sexualized male nudes — although what’s not to love about that? — but because his subjects were always depicted as strong, happy and proud of their bodies and themselves. Gay pride was evident in Tom of Finland’s art long before it was a rallying call for the LGBT community. And in honor of PrideFest weekend, phd gallery hosts a unique exhibition, Tom of Finland: Original Drawings. As the title implies, these are not lithographs or reproductions, but genuine original graphite on paper illustrations from the hand of the master.
Tom of Finland: Original Drawings opens with a free public reception from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at phd gallery (2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 or www.phdstl.com). A suggested $10 donation on opening night benefits the Tom of Finland Foundation, an organization which promotes, protects and preserves erotic art. The work remains up through Saturday, August 6, and the gallery is open Thursday through Sunday. Admission is free after opening night.