2009 Leather Hall of Fame Inductee
Touko Laaksonen (1920 –1991)
Tom of Finland
 

Born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland, Tom of Finland was most notable for his stylized homoerotic art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. Over the course of 4 decades he produced some 3500 illustrations.

Tom made his first erotic drawings in his youth, but none of them are known to exist today. Tom said that at first he kept his drawings hidden, and then destroyed them by the time he went to serve in the army. His drawings were based on images of masculine Finnish laborers he had seen from an early age. When Finland became embroiled in World War II, Tom joined the Finnish Army where he served as an anti-aircraft officer. Tom attributed his fetishistic interest in uniformed men to his own encounters with men in army uniform at this time.

In 1956, he submitted some of his homoerotic drawings to the influential American magazine Physique Pictorial under the pseudonym Tom as it resembled his given name Touko. The editor changed the name to Tom of Finland.

Tom of Finland's work soon gained the attention of the gay community and by 1973 he was both publishing erotic comic books and infiltrating the mainstream art world. (The Museum of Modern Art has a number of Tom's works in the permanent collection.) Tom's work is notable for its focus on homomasculine archetypes such as lumberjacks, motorcycle policemen, sailors, businessmen, bikers, prison guards, and leathermen. His most prominent comic series are the "KAKE" comics which included these men in abundance.

In 1979, Tom founded the Tom of Finland Company to collect and distribute his work. The company still exists and has expanded into a non-profit foundation dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting homoerotic artwork. Before his death in 1991, Tom was the subject of the Finnish documentary "Daddy and the Muscle Academy - The Art, Life and Times of Tom of Finland". The European art publisher Taschen has published various collections of his work including three retrospective anthologies.

Many of Tom's drawings are based on photographs. The photographic inspiration is used to create lifelike, almost moving images, with convincing and active postures and gestures. At the same time, Tom presents his ideal of masculine beauty and leather sexual fetish, not combining realism with fantasy, but making fantasy real.

There are arguments over whether Tom's depiction of 'supermen' (male characters with huge sexual organs and muscles) is heroic or exaggerated. Bottom line, there's a huge number of gay men who admire Tom's work on a purely utilitarian basis. As the owner of a leather shop in Amsterdam put it, 'These works are not conversation pieces, they're masturbation pieces'.

Tom of Finland commercialized the underground leather counter-culture which emerged after World War II and continues to flourish. The uniforms, physique and attitude adopted by large numbers of gay men continue to be inspired by Tom's images. Tom of Finland's images continue to be used extensively in gay publications, bars, clubs, and online communities who associate with his BDSM subject matter.