Tom of Finland
Untitled (from “Circus”)
Graphite on paper
10 1/2 x 15 inches(26.7 x 38.1 cm)(sheet size)
Photography ©2016 Fredrik Nilsen, All Rights Reserved.
Echoing the mid-dance pose of Cocteau’s Harlequin, the circus acrobats in this Tom of Finland drawing transform a traditional circus performance into a homoerotic adventure.
Tom of Finland a.k.a. Touko Laaksonen (1920 – 1991), grew up in Finland and pioneered the creation and mass distribution of homoerotic imagery in the postwar period. At the age of 19 he enrolled in a distance learning advertising course. He joined the Finnish Army in its fight against the Soviet invasion. After the war he worked as freelance graphic designer, later becoming senior art director at the Helsinki office of the global advertising agency McCann Erickson, where he had access to a range of mainstream publications and illegally published early gay magazines.
In the 1950s, he started contributing illustrations to Bob Mizer’s publication Physique Pictorial. In the 1960s, he began a prolific and now well-known series of erotic comic illustrations with the Danish publishing house DFT, COQ International and the Swedish Revolt Press, and later through his own Tom of Finland Company.
His emblematic, larger-than-life drawn phalluses threaten not only the existing symbolic order of heterosexuality, but also reorganize the principles by which (homo)sexual desires are structured. This fearless portrait of sexuality can also be read as a portrait of the sadomasochistic relationship that is at play between culture and subculture itself, an aspect that runs through gay culture of the 20th and 21st centuries as much as it is present in Tom of Finland’s biography and work.Artists Space, “Tom Finland: The Pleasure of Play,” 13 June – 13 September 2015
Transcending the contexts of the male physique magazines in which his work originally appeared, his images were some of the first to portray hyper-masculine figures performing sexual acts with one another, and as such, they recast the traditionally effeminate and weak portrayals of gay men and the homosexual act as playful and wholesome.
David Kordansky Gallery
Other works by Tom of Finland
Tom of Finland, Untitled (From “Camping”), 1976
Tom of Finland, Untitled (Preparatory Drawing for #76.41 from “Camping”), 1976
Tom of Finland Foundation
Artists Space, “Tom Finland: The Pleasure of Play,” 13 June – 13 September 2015
Tom of Finland in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago
Tom of Finland in the collection of the MoMA