Durk Dehner, founder of Tom of Finland Foundation, was a close friend, beloved, co-worker, manager and sparring member of Tom (born Touko Laaksonen). He has made his life’s work to maintain and protect the art of Tom of Finland. In this upstairs bedroom, Tom slept and drew.
Tom’s life in Los Angeles in the 1980s was a time of freedom, celebration and inspiration. There he met a man who became the protector of his beloved and all his life’s work. There he was no longer the director of advertising agency, Touko Laaksonen, he was Tom of Finland.
A lean man stands in the picture, smiling in his shiny leather pants. There is a keychain hanging in his hand, which tickles your imagination.
The life of young Durk Dehner in the art circles changed when he bumped into this drawing by Tom of Finland at a motorcycle club bar in Manhattan in 1976. Dehner was so attracted to the poster that he stole it from the wall, found out the artist’s name and address and wrote it. A letter from Finland soon arrived in the mailbox. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Durk Dehner and Tom.
Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991) lived in Helsinki with his unmarried partner Veli Mäkinen at the time. A few years earlier, he had left his job as an artistic director at McCann Advertising Agency to focus on drawing. However, in Finland’s atmosphere at the time, success in homoerotic art was impossible, not to mention that it was possible to live a life of its own kind.
The criminalization of homosexual acts was abolished in Finnish law in 1971 and the classification of the disease in 1981.
Tom first came to Los Angeles in 1978, when Eons Gallery wanted to produce the Tom of Finland calendar and hold an exhibition of its drawings.
Dehner recalls that Tom was equally smiley when he was met by a young man at LAX Airport who had worked as a model in several magazines. According to Dehner, Tom had long dreamed of television and magazines in Los Angeles full of palm trees and tanned, muscular and incredibly handsome men.
The show was soon followed by the second, third and fourth. In 1980, Dehner invited Tom to Los Angeles.
“We had bought the house as a commune together with my ex-partner and our new partners last year. I invited Tom to live there.”
Dehner says that Tom wasn’t sure about the change until after visiting the house with Veli Mäkinen. He had become fooled by people in art circles and was afraid of disappointment.
“Veli suffered from throat cancer and knew he would die soon. He asked me to look after Tom after he died. Veli died in 1981, ”Dehner recalls.