Touko Valio Laaksonen, the queer Finnish artist better known as Tom of Finland, died in 1991. But his iconic homoerotic drawings are as popular today as they were in the 1950s and 1960s, if not more so.
On August 30, Skira comes out Tom from Finland: an imaginary sketchbook. The 128-page book takes a step back from the super neat illustrations you may be familiar with – featuring dozens of unfinished pencil drawings and preliminary sketches of the cowboys, cops, bikers and studs that define by Laaksonen work.
An imaginary sketchbook has almost no text, except for a sequel by the book’s co-editors, Juerg Judin and Pay Matthis Karstens from the Judin Gallery in Berlin.
“We intentionally didn’t make a striker, just an addendum,” Karstens told Queerty. “We wanted him to be taken seriously as an artist who doesn’t need an explanation. Like, ‘Can we just appreciate what he’s doing before we talk about the message?’
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Karstens and Juden have worked closely with the Tom of Finland Foundation to draw highlights from a larger collection of by Laaksonen sketches, some of which first appeared in public in a 2017 exhibition.
“We wanted to show a range of what he was drawing and How? ‘Or’ What he drew,” Karstens said. “Not just the ones where every line is perfect. But drawings where you see the process and kind of how ‘Tom’s man’ has changed.
All illustrations in the sketchbook are not preparatory works, What Laaksonen called “roughs”, where he arranges figures and compositions.
“You can see him trying a move, erase it, and find the right one,” Karstens said. “It’s very different from finished works, which are so ‘finished’.”
The drawings are not presented chronologically nor do they represent the entirety of by Laaksonen work: Most date from the late 60s to the late 80s.
And some illustrations reveal some of the weak points of the master: In several, the shoes of the models are left unfinished or conveniently obscured by bell bottoms.
“He was bad with feet and shoes,” Karstens said with a laugh, “so he tried to avoid them.”
Tom of Finland’s signature eroticism is on full display, but some of Karstens’ favorite drawings show a tender side, like a depicting two men cuddling.
“Yes, there’s a huge bulge, but there’s also a show of love,” he said. “A connection beyond the sexual.”
Fashionable Tom from Finland
The legacy of Tom of Finland continues beyond gallery exhibitions and fine books. Last month, British fashion label JW Anderson unveiled its third collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation, which oversees the licensing of Laaksonen’s images.
The foundation has partnered with various retailers, from Comme des Garçons to Happy Hour Skateboards. flavor paper even created an X-rated wallpaper in collaboration with Michael Reynolds and Hoffman Creative.
In May, Diesel partnered with Tom of Finland on a Pride capsule collection and launched “All Together”, a pair of exhibitions in Venice and Paris featuring original works by Tom of Finland and artists inspired by him. .
“In the most universal terms, Tom’s work represents tolerance, acceptance, pride, joy and freedom,” said Joakim Andreasson, Licensing Director for Tom of Finland. fashion network. “His images have become symbolic of the advancement of gay rights and sexual freedom.”
Karstens is not surprised that so many mainstream retailers are calling for their collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation.
“Playboy bunnies, pin-ups, that’s been the norm for ages. It was about time it happened to men,” he said. “A window has opened on the acceptance of male nudes, of homoerotic art. It’s a catch-up, an emancipation of the male body.
While Tom of Finland is inexplicably tied to the queer movement, even those outside of the LGBTQ community can appreciate the sense of freedom it evokes.
“Sexual freedom, yes, but also just being who you are, which is what people are starting to care about,” Karstens said. “It’s a very broad message that connects to women’s rights, to Black Lives Matter. These images are at least 30 or 50 years old, but you can relate to them today. And it’s a very political message , in a sense, that makes it so fresh.