Tom of Finland lived here

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.

Durk Dehner (right) organized Tom’s exhibition at Stompers Gallery, New York, in 1978. There, Tom met Andy Warhol, who owned and honored several of Tom of Finland works. Photo by A.J. Epstein.

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.

Tom and Durk traveled together. In 1986, the men traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii, where Durk had previously lived a beach life.

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Tom was born Touko Valio Laaksonen
in Kaarina, near Turku, on the southwest coast of Finland in 1920.

 

Tom talks about his youth:

We lived in a school house, the way it worked back then was that teachers had an apartment in the school house. Mom was the head teacher and when another teacher was needed for the school because the population in the area was growing, they hired a man. And he fell in love with the head teacher and they married. To the end my mom was the boss at school and dad was the other teacher. No-one’s ever said anything anywhere but thinking about it, it does seem pretty meaningful. Mom really was an energetic head of the school. They were both pretty typical pious and God-fearing teachers of the time, and very protective parents. They meant well— there were five of us kids — by wanting us to stay home rather than out and about with the other kids.

-Kati Mustola, Unforeseen

Kaarina is now a part of the Greater Turku region.

The spirit of Tom of Finland’s art

Next year will mark the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen, 1920-1991). And it looks like Tom of Finland Foundation, one of the organizations that works to keep the iconic artist’s legacy alive, is starting its celebrations early with a series of erotic films that will release beginning this month.

As a multi-part project, the collaboration will kick off with Tom of Finland: 1957. That film stars Matthew Camp as a police officer and Theo Brady and Kurtis Wolfe as a birdwatcher and fisherman, respectively. The period piece harkens back to Tom’s earliest sketches where he depicted day labourers as well as other common men. Much in the spirit of both Tom of Finland’s art and Men.com’s impetus, the scene devolves into an eventual threesome. It will release on December 13.

But 1957 is only the beginning of the Tom of Finland X Men.com link up: the project will include films from Bruce LaBruce, Matt Lambert, and Cory Krueckeberg. According to XBIZ, though the first three installments will be period pieces, “follow-up episodes move into the present-day and the future,” in a bid to reimagine Tom for a younger crowd. Terry Miller, who has been one of the modern day faces of Tom of Finland as he is the model of choice for the Tom of Finland Store, will also play a role. Musician Casey Spooner will as well.

But it won’t be just films. Lambert has announced that his hand in the project will also be a collaboration: Titled Pleasure Park, after a popular Tom of Finland series, that partnership will live as not only a film set to debut in 2020, but also a zine. 

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE BY MIKELLE STREET