What can be said about Touko Laaksonen that hasn’t already been said? His artistic output in myriad forms, unleashed over the last 50 or so years has had groundbreaking impact on global culture. His artwork has been censored on a massive scale; an eponymous fashion line based on his work has graced many catwalks; his drawings are part of the collections of major institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; he’s been referred to as one of the “five most influential artists of the twentieth century.”
Laaksonen, known to the world as Tom of Finland, has been called a hero and a pervert but in his native Finland, he’s a national hero. After his passing in 1991, a documentary about his life, titled Daddy and the Muscle Academy: The Life and Art of Tom of Finland, was shown on Finnish national TV and was later shown at film festivals worldwide.
The work is 100% erotic, but there’s no denying the political weight that lies inherently in his earlier work; indeed his drawings in the ’50s and early ’60s were influenced strongly by US censorship codes and were mostly deemed obscene. In 1962, in the case of MANual Enterprises v. Day, the US Supreme Court ruled that photos of men in the nude were not profane. After that, the context changed; artistically Laaksonen could veer into new territories and publicly show what up until then only private collectors had had access to: much more suggestive – well, let’s face it – straight up pornographic – imagery.
You’d be hard pressed not to have some sort of association with Tom of Finland. But if for some reason this is the first you’re hearing of him, be assured: his hold on popular culture as we know it is VAST. There’s a saying: Before there was Gucci or Gaultier, there was Tom of Finland. ToF drawings were featuring men in military uniforms 2 or 3 sizes too small way back in the early ’50s. His subsequent interests in biker, sailor, beachboy and businessmen culture have been an endless source of inspiration for fashion designers throughout the last five decades.