Tom of Finland is one of the most well-known Finnish artists in the world. Over 100 illustrations from 1944–1984 have been put together for an exhibition in Liverpool. Tom of Finland, real name Touko Laaksonen, has had a substantial effect on gay culture of the late 20th century.
Tom of Finland's legendary drawings depict sailors, bikers, policemen and workmen, preferably in tight trousers and clad in leather. Tom's artwork can be described to have emerged as a stereotype of masculine gay men. His most famous work is the comic strip Kake.
Tom of Finland's passion and evident talent combined with his remarkable boldness were the key factors which made him a world-renown artist. He was born in 1920 and made his breakthrough in the 1950s. During his career he has held numerous exhibitions, many of them in the United States. Tom himself called his artwork with the affectionate term "dirty drawings".
In reality, the signifigance of his finely detailed work is considerable. His contribution to the improvement of the self-esteem and self-respect of the whole gay community is widely seen as irreplaceable. When Tom's work was first published, gay men were under pressure from society and tried to hide their masculinity and keep a low profile. Years later, highlighting Tom of Finland's role, the gay community began to have the courage to express themselves as something that is usually seen as the traditional masculinity; toned and tanned alfa-males.
One of the key elements in Tom's artwork is the positive and optimistic openness. It is evident throughout his production, and it is something that he has always striven to. Undoubtedly the combination of open-mindedness and courage which is charasteristic to Tom of Finland has furthered his career substantially and made him the world-famous artist he is today. Tom of Finland was awarded with the Puupäähattu award by the Finnish Comic Strip Association (Suomen sarjakuvasäätiö) in 1990.
Tom of Finland passed away in 1991. His legacy to both the art world and the gay community lives on.
Text: Sofia Pöyhönen, Embassy of Finland
Photos: Courtesy of Homotopia
16.9.–30.11.2008, open from Tuesday to Sunday 10 am - 5 pm
Contemporary Urban Centre, Greenland Street, Liverpool