Tom of Finland (born Touko Valio Laaksonen, 8 May 1920– 7 November 1991) ranks among the most internationally acclaimed artists to come out of Finland, his native country. His drawings of happy gay men proudly enjoying their sexuality were revolutionary at a time when homosexuality was still considered a crime and fetishism classified as a disease. His art has been liberating and empowering for countless gay men and sexual minorities for decades. Over the years, a small minority’s pornography has evolved into art enjoyed by wide audiences.
The characters in Tom of Finland’s drawings – lumberjacks, bikers, soldiers and policemen – exude vitality, joy and pride. Their leather gear and uniforms are portrayed with the same exquisite attention to detail as their muscular physiques. In his drawings, men connect with one another through erotic-laden gazes, gestures and postures. The artist drew to arouse desire, initially for his own private pleasure, and later for an expanding world of fans.
Tom of Finland developed exquisite drawing skills. His influence is seen in the work of many notable artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Mike Kelley and Jean-Paul Gaultier. They were among the first to recognize the artistic value of Tom’s drawings, which have later toured the world in exhibitions.
Bold Journey spans the entire six-decade career of Tom of Finland. It is structured around his biography and the characters and settings that he created. Also shown are drawings from the artist’s childhood and a wealth of archival material. As part of the exhibition, visitors are welcome to take a virtual tour of TOM House in Los Angeles, where Tom wintered during the last decade of his life.
In connection with the exhibition, an illustrated book will be published collecting newly commissioned texts and pre-existing writings translated for the first time into English as well as excerpts from one of the last interviews Tom of Finland gave.
The exhibition is curated by Kiasma’s director, Leevi Haapala, and João Laia, chief curator of temporary exhibitions.