Tom of Finland is probably the most well-known homoerotic artist. His beautiful and stylized drawings of very muscular men in leather, uniforms and various fetishwear and situations are recognized all over the world. His characters are as famous for their huge bulging cocks as for their masculine look.
Tom of Finland was born Touko Laaksonen in May of 1920. He really was from Finland, and grew up when Finland was still full of loggers and farmers. In fact, the area he spent his childhood in was basically still the country, which would have made Tom a country boy except for his parents.
Tom's parents were both teachers and raised him with a lot encouragement in art and music. There was an emphasis on culture. It suited Tom, who was never very athletic and loved to draw from an early age. At 6, he was drawing his own comic books with an emphasis on heroic or muscular men. He also loved playing the piano which he continued through adulthood.
Even though his parents were both intellectual, Tom found himself attracted to men like police or the men who worked outdoors. He was influenced early by the younger field hands around where he lived. They were muscular due to the work they did, and often Tom would hide and watch them as they wrestled or worked, the sunlight against their skin. For the rest of his life, Tom of Finland's art would reflect the very muscular and masculine men that he was already focusing on as a young man.
At the age of 19 Touko moved to Helsinki to attend art school but soon found himself inducted into the Finnish Army when his country became involved in World War 2. It was during the war that Touko's daydreams became reality and he was able to have sex with military men in uniform in the streets during the blackouts.
When he was again a civilian Touko went to work in the advertising industry but kept doing his own drawings of his muscular fantasy men as well. He also continued his piano studies at the Sibelius Institute. Soon he was playing piano in clubs, doing window displays and fashion design by day, and always continuing is erotic male art. He avoided gay clubs at this time as they were generally patronized by very campy effeminate men. It was on a street corner in 1953 Tom met Veli, the man who was to be his lover for 28 years.
In late 1956 Touko submitted his pictures to Bob Mizer's magazine, Physique Pictorial. He chose that his work be published under the name "Tom of Finland" to avoid any public scrutiny in the restrictive and conservative 1950's. His drawing of a shirtless and smiling lumberjack was the cover picture for the spring 1957 edition of Physique Pictorial. The public and the magazine loved Tom of Finland's work and demanded more.
Unfortunately at this time erotic art didn't pay all that well. Even though he produced a huge body of drawings, it wasn't until the early 1970's that Tom was finally able to quit his "day job".
Tom's first art exhibit was in germany, but things didn't go well. All but one of his drawings were stolen, and it was years before he was willing to do another exhibit. Finally in 1978 Tom went to America for the first time to show his pictures in Los Angeles. This was only the first of many exhibitions in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Tom soon found himself to be an international celebrity with famous friends like Robert Mapplethorpe. Tom found a manager in Durk Dehner and no longer had to deal with his own business or finances. Sadly, in 1981 Veli died of throat cancer.
By the middle of the 80's Tom was spending half of each year in Los Angeles and half in Helsinki. His fame kept him very busy and the demand for his work increased. Then in 1988 he was diagnosed with emphysema.
Tom continued to draw till his hands became unsteady from the medication he was forced to take. Then he began to do his work in pastels which he had loved working with as a child. He continued working on male nudes until right before his death on November 7, 1991.
Tom of Finland helped redefine gay masculinity with his drawings, and certainly invented the leatherman so popular in the 1980s. His art collections are shown in museums and art shows all over the world. Books of his work and his biography are still being published and sold at books stores, through magazines and online at Amazon and many other comic and book dealers. There is even a doll based on Tom of Finland's artwork.
When asked if he was not embarrassed to show men having sex, Tom replied firmly "I work very hard to make sure that the men I draw having sex are proud men having happy sex!" He did a great job, and I think this is one of the reasons his gay erotic art is still being sold throughout the world.