Untitled from The Tattooed Sailor series 1962 © Tom of Finland Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection
This year House of Illustration will open the UK’s first public solo show dedicated to gay cultural icon and prolific artist Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen), in partnership with Tom of Finland Foundation and the Finnish Institute in London.
This timely exhibition, on the centenary of his birth, will celebrate the artist whose homoerotic visions had a profound effect on gay communities in Europe and North America during a pivotal period in their history and continue to have an immeasurable influence on popular culture today.
Tom of Finland: Love and Liberation will display 40 works on paper produced from the 1960s to the 1980s, both before and after homosexuality was decriminalised in much of Europe and the U.S. It will include early drawings of men fighting that constituted the only legal way to show physical contact between men before decriminalisation, as well as illustrations from his iconic Kake comics and rare linocuts produced in very limited editions.
Untitled 1974 © Tom of Finland Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection
Tom of Finland Foundation co-founder and president Durk Dehner says:
“We are delighted to be showing Tom of Finland’s iconic and important work to the UK public, introducing audiences in London to Tom’s mastery of multiple mediums spanning his lengthy artistic career.”
Many of these works, on loan from the Los Angeles-based Tom of Finland Foundation, will be exhibited to the public for the first time.
An art director at an advertising agency by day, Tom of Finland (1920-1991) began drawing his homoerotic fantasies by night, first distributing them in U.S. bodybuilding magazines and signing them with the pseudonym ‘Tom’ to avoid censure and arrest. The general public had only to look at a ‘sports’ or ‘health’ magazine to see Tom of Finland’s sensuous hyper-masculine figures, while an underground audience could access his overt erotica via a network of sex shops and leather bars.
Tom’s drawings didn’t just present homoerotic scenes – they fetishized the uniforms of the military and law-enforcement establishment, subverting the image of these homophobic institutions in a direct challenge to the emasculating stereotypes and prejudices of the time. His unabashed and unapologetic depictions of homosexuality shaped gay identity, inspired LGBTQI rights campaigners and invigorated popular culture, influencing the aesthetics of artists as diverse as Freddie Mercury, Robert Mapplethorpe and John Paul Gaultier.
Untitled from Sex on the Train 1974 © Tom of Finland Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection
House of Illustration curator Olivia Ahmad says:
“Tom of Finland transformed his original perception of male sexuality and desire into a vital art that spoke to suppressed queer communities around the world and revolutionised the image of gay men in popular culture. Tom rejected the discrimination and conservative conventions of his time to celebrate love, intimacy and pleasure, and it’s no surprise that his message continues to resonate. We are extremely proud to present this overdue show of his work in the UK here at House of Illustration.”
Tom of Finland: Love and Liberation 6 March – 21 June 2020 House of Illustration, 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London N1C 4BH @illustrationHQ
Tom of Finland is the artist name of Touko Laaksonen (1920, Kaarina – 1991, Helsinki). He signed his erotic work ‘Tom’ when his drawings were first published in 1957 and the now world-renowned ‘Tom of Finland’ was born. Tom produced more than 3,500 illustrations during his lifetime that transformed homoerotic art and had far-reaching influence on LGBTQ+ and popular culture.
Tom of Finland Foundation was established by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner. Now in their 35th year and based in Los Angeles, the Foundation is a non-profit organization that preserves the archive of Tom of Finland and supports contemporary erotic artists. The Foundation’s mission is to champion the cultural importance of erotic art and to promote healthier, more tolerant attitudes towards sexuality. This year they celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth: #TOMs100.