by Robert Mapplethorpe,
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, 1978

Career

Alongside Tove Jansson, the creator of the the Moomin characters, Tom of Finland is the most internationally renowned Finnish graphic artist, but in Finland remained mostly unknown outside the gay subculture during his life.

The exhibitions organised after his death gave him wider audience. Because his art dealt with erotic and even pronographic subject material, Tom did not receive recognition for his work from the Finnish society during his career. As an artist, it is fair to say that Tom of Finland’s work was labelled pronographic much in the same way as Andy Warhol’s work was labelled commercial.

Tom himself was very plain about his work. “Yes, I consider my work pornography. Pornography means to stimulate peoples’ sexual feelings, and I’m always very aware of that. My motive is lower than art.”

Still Tom’s influence to the gay subculture and eventually to the mainstream culture through the popular adoption of SM and fetish imagery, should not be underestimated.

Even more important than that, Tom’s life’s work offered a new strong gay identity and a positive role model for growing gay men – his characters were not effeminate gigglers or sad weaklins but muscular, butch and full of humour and happiness.

Tom of Finland’s real name was Touko Laaksonen. He was born on 8 May 1920, on the south coast of Finland. Tom died in November 7th, 1991.