Touko Laaksonen (8 May 1920 – 7 November 1991), best known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland, was a Finnish artist notable for his stylized homoerotic fetish art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade.
Over the course of four decades he produced some 3500 illustrations, mostly featuring men with exaggerated primary and secondary sex traits with tight or partially removed clothing.
During his lifetime and beyond, Laaksonen's work has drawn both admiration and disdain from different quarters of the artistic community. Laaksonen developed a friendship with gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose work depicting sado-masochism and f
etish iconography was
also subject to controversy.
A controversial theme in his drawings was the erotic treatment of men in Nazi uniforms. They form a small part of his overall work, but the typically flattering visual treatment of these characters has led some viewers to infer sympathy or affinity for Nazism, and they have been omitted from most recent anthologies of his work. Later in his career Laaksonen disavowed this work and was at pains to dissociate himself and his work from fascist or racist ideologies. He also depicted a significant number of black men in his drawings, with no overt racial or political message in the context in which they appear; although they bear some commonality with racist caricatures of the "hypersexual" black male, these traits are shared by Laaksonen's white characters as well.
Art critics have mixed views about Laaksonen's work. His detailed drawing technique has led to him being described as a 'master with a pencil', while in contrast a reviewer for Dutch newspaper Het Parool described his work as 'illustrative but without expressivity'.
There is considerable argument over whether his depiction of 'supermen' (male characters with huge sexual organs and muscles) is facile and distasteful, or whether there is a deeper complexity in the work which plays with and subverts those stereotypes. For example, some critics have noted instances of apparent tenderness between traditionally tough, masculine characters, or playful smiles in sado-masochistic scenes.
In either case, there remains a large constituency who admire the work on a purely utilitarian basis, as described by Rob Meijer, owner of a leather shop and art gallery in Amsterdam, "These works are not conversation pieces, they're masturbation pieces."
Writing for Artforum, Kevin Killian said that seeing Tom of Finland originals “produces a strong respect for his nimble, witty creation”. Kate Wolf writes that “Tom of Finland helped pave the way to gay liberation”.
Thank you Dear Ella for these interesting cards.