Touko Laaksonen @ Judin BERLIN

Tom of Fin­land is a gay icon. His draw­ings of well-built men in rugged attire and his depic­tions of man-to-man lust, shaped a strong image of gay identity. He drew males hav­ing sex with­out shame, proud and full of confi­dence. Tom of Fin­land is the artist’s name of Touko Laakso­nen (1920—1991). He signed his erotic work “Tom” and when his draw­ings were first pub­lished in 1957, the now world-famous “Tom of Fin­land” was born. The name Touko Laakso­nen was kept for fam­ily and col­leagues; both friends and fans have always simply called him Tom.
Touko Laakso­nen was born on 8th May in southwest Fin­land. Both his par­ents were teach­ers at a primary school, where the fam­ily also lived. The arts played a major role with the Laakso­nens. Touko’s father had a ded­icated inter­est in music and—direct­ing a local choir—he introduced his five chil­dren to singing at an early age. Touko’s mother encour­aged her chil­dren with their crafts and draw­ing. After gra­dua­ting from high school in Turku in 1939, Touko started dis­tance studies in adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing—the same year as the out­break of World War II. In early 1940, he was enlisted into the Finnish army. By late the same year, he was commis­sioned sec­ond lieu­tenant and promoted to lieu­tenant in 1943. While sta­tioned near Helsinki, Touko had the chance to frequently indulge in the clas­sical music con­certs the cap­ital offered. The city’s black­outs at night proved fruitful for enjoying the company of the many other lonely men hungry for sex. An excel­lent pianist and expe­r­i­enced cho­ris­ter, he orga­nized a choir in his artillery unit, boost­ing their moral. The unit was trans­ferred in 1944 and Touko was then engaged in the important and brutal bat­tles which eventu­ally stopped the advance of enemy forces.
Touko spent almost five years in mil­itary ser­vice—from basic train­ing to dec­o­rated offi­cer. Helsinki’s post­war gay cul­ture appeared flamboy­ant to Touko and he tried to fit in, but he had come of age in uniform, hav­ing sex with oth­ers in uniform. He just felt more at home with the tougher types he had known. Touko had a fas­cina­tion with uniforms from an early age, always remem­ber­ing his school-bus drivers. Dur­ing the war, when Fin­land was inun­dated with sol­diers and sailors, boots and uniforms became fetishes for him. After the war ended, he completed his adver­tis­ing course while studying music at the famed Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. He fin­ished his studies in com­po­si­tion and piano at the Academy in 1949. As there wasn’t much work for a con­cert pianist, Touko took jobs as a rehearsal pianist and was part of an ensem­ble that played at restau­rants and clubs for the next decade.
While defend­ing his country at war, there was lit­tle opportu­nity for Touko to indulge his per­sonal inter­est in draw­ing. Dur­ing peace­time, once he had the privacy of his own room, he could live out all his fantasies on paper, while hooking up with men in the parks and pub­lic meet­ing places of Helsinki. Touko shared a sub­let with his sis­ter and her class­mate, who then moved out. Touko met Veli “Nipa” Mäkinen (1932—1981) in the park, invited him home, and he never really left. Eventu­ally the cou­ple moved to their own apart­ment. The Laakso­nen fam­ily was fond of Nipa and never asked ques­tions about the two men’s rela­tion­ship; Nipa was always referred to as Touko’s “room-mate”.
Touko worked in adver­tis­ing by day. His favorite assign­ment was to draw people, but clients complained that the fathers in his per­fect Finnish fam­i­l­ies were “too sexy”. He wasn’t fired, but moved into man­age­ment and eventu­ally became the main art director for the firm. Despite these successes and advance­ments, he was never completely fulfilled by this “straight” job.
Until the mid-1950s, Tom’s “dirty draw­ings”—as he mod­estly referred to them—had never been offi­cially pub­lished. Tom had given some to friends, and photographed oth­ers, which were passed around in pri­vate circles. This changed in 1957, when Bob Mizer first used one on the cover of his mag­a­zine Physique Picto­rial. Tom of Fin­land’s draw­ings added some­thing new to this world of “muscle mag­a­zines”—desire. He set about going beyond beefcake to rep­re­sent his men lust­ing for each other. It played out with nat­u­ral­ness, humor and joy. His men were at ease with their sexu­al­ity, their wants and their bod­ies. They were gay.
Tom made small photo­graphic reproduc­tions of his work to circu­late and offered prints to be pur­chased either directly from him or his pub­lish­ers. The prints were sold indi­vid­u­ally, as well as in sets, through mail-order. In 1973, Tom made the deci­sive move to devote him­self full time to his art. He left the adver­tis­ing agency, and his new-found ded­ica­tion to his pas­sion fueled his recog­ni­tion abroad. In Fin­land, though, it was hard to imag­ine that a Finn had actu­ally drawn some­thing this bold!
The same year he left the agency, he also had the first exhibit of his orig­inal draw­ings. It was held in the back­room of a small “adult” bookshop in Hamburg. Tom finally vis­ited the USA in 1978. Within that year, he had two solo exhi­bi­tions, one in Los Ange­les and one in San Francisco—and a show in New York with artist Eti­enne, arranged by Cana­dian-born Durk Dehner (*1949). This trip to the States was worthwhile and his career took a sig­nif­icant leap forward. Tom needed some­one to man­age his busi­ness and Durk, who lived in Los Ange­les and had hosted him on his first visit, turned out to be just this man: trustee, model, lover and busi­ness partner. Together they formed the Tom of Fin­land Company, fol­lowed in 1984 by the non-profit Tom of Fin­land Foun­da­tion, helmed by Durk to this day.
Dur­ing the 1980s, Tom divided his time between Los Ange­les and Helsinki, working on exhi­bi­tions in both Europe and Amer­ica, pub­lica­tions, commis­sioned artworks and his own fantasies. In 1990, shortly before his death, his peers in Fin­land awarded him the high­est prize for comics. The artist died of COPD (chronic obstruc­tive pul­monary dis­ease) on 7th Novem­ber 1991, at the age of 71.

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