A KALTBLUT exclusive editorial taken from our #Pride Issue. Photography Pablo Solano. Models are Damian Garcia, Pablo Solano and Letal. Harness by Uriel Urban.
As Tom of Finland himself has once noted, during his whole life, he did nothing but interpret his dreams of ultimate masculinity, and draw them. Combin- ing his love of machismo with his natural artistic talent, he created a groundbreaking body of work that celebrates the idealized male form.
A grandmaster of homoerotic art of the twentieth century and beyond whose images of masculine gay men helped smash stereotypes and produce new diversity, not only did Tom of Finland create new role models for gay men, but he also had an impact on global culture, style and attitude towards liberated sexual expression.
By day a senior art director at an advertising agency McCann Erickson, Touko Valio Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland spent his spare time drawing his sexual fantasies that featured homoerotic archetypes such as lumberjacks, sailors, bikers, blue-collar workers, policemen and men dressed in leather. Growing up in Kaarina in rural Finland, he began drawing cartoons of rough and masculine labourers at an early age. His fantasies were fueled by his experiences in World War II, in which his country fought on the side of the Nazis. Although he despised the ideology, he became deeply drawn to uniformed men of authority. His eroticism subversive- ly reclaimed this style and reaffirmed his position as part of the gay culture, and from his earliest pieces onwards, his subjects were ecstatic, gushing and ejaculating.
As a way to avoid homophobic censorship law in Finland in the 1950s, he started submitting drawings as “Tom” to the Bob Mizer’s publication Physique Pictorial from Los Angeles. Soon, the Tom of Finland legend was born and his global career as an iconic gay figure was jumpstarted. Inspired by biker culture that embodied rebelliousness and danger, he created illustrations that capitalized on the leather and denim outfits which separated his subjects from mainstream sexual cultures. His works fuelled both the sexual fantasies and the aesthetic of many gay men, and the emerging gay leather scene inspired his works further and made them evolve.
His increasingly erotic drawings of hyper-masculine men were distributed worldwide in dime stores, sex shops or bars through an international underground of fans, despite laws against the distribution of such explicit material. Travelling extensively to Europe, Laaksonen himself sold and gifted his drawings to men he met in the local gay scene, thus further proliferating his work while establishing- an underground distribution network and the base of admirers.
Exploring and dismantling the representations of maleness and gender-assigned attributes in mainstream media, he turned these reference pages towards the exact opposite of their origin. Depicting oversized phalluses and muscles, his drawings challenged the existing symbolic order of heterosexuality, at the same time creating a fearless portrait of homosexual desires.