“Tom of Finland: Love and Liberation” | 6th March | London

 

 

 

 

 

TOM OF FINLAND, Untitled (From Sex on the Train), 1974, Pen and ink on paper, 10.75″ x 7.88″, Tom of Finland Foundation permanent collection, © 1974 – 2020 Tom of Finland Foundation

The UK’s first public exhibition dedicated solely to gay cultural icon Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen) on the centenary of his birth.

This timely exhibition celebrates the artist whose unique aesthetic and homoerotic visions had a profound impact on the likes of Queen and the Village People – despite living and working in a country where both homosexuality and pornography were illegal.

It will feature iconic, previously unseen drawings from Tom of Finland Foundation’s collection – unabashed tributes to gay sexuality and identity which continue to have an outsize influence today.


The Finnish artist, known for his subversive, sexualised portraits of sailors, policeman and bulging leather-clad bikers, will be remembered in a far-reaching retrospective at London’s House of Illustration to celebrate the centenary of his birth.

Tom of Finland: Love and Liberation will display 40 works on paper produced from the 1960s to the 1980s, both before and after homosexuality was decriminalised in much of Europe and the U.S.

Tom of Finland drew popular acclaim for his highly stylised homoerotic illustrations, which cunningly circumvented restrictive censorship laws of the 1950s and ’60s.

 

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IT TURNS OUT TOM OF FINLAND COULD HAVE BEEN ‘TOM OF LONDON’

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.

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991). 1987, Graphite on paper, © Tom of Finland Foundation, Inc.

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.

By Joshua Haigh

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