The UK’s first public exhibition dedicated solely to gay cultural icon Tom of Finland
A timely celebration, showing previously unseen works on the centenary of his birth
“My aim is not to create an ideal but to draw beautiful men who love each other and are proud of it.”
On 6 March 2020, House of Illustration opens the UK’s first public solo show dedicated to gay cultural icon and prolific artist Tom of Finland (born Touko Laaksonen), in partnership with Tom of Finland Foundation and the Finnish Institute in London.
This timely exhibition, on the centenary of his birth, will celebrate the artist whose homoerotic visions had a profound effect on gay communities in Europe and North America during a pivotal period in their history and continue to have animmeasurable influence on popular culture today.
Tom of Finland: Love and Liberation will display 40 works on paper produced from the 1960s to the 1980s, both before and after homosexuality was decriminalised in much of Europe and the U.S. It will include early drawings of men fighting that constituted the only legal way to show physical contact between men before decriminalisation, as well as illustrations from his iconic Kake comics and rare linocuts produced in very limited editions.
Many of these works, on loan from the Los Angeles-based Tom of Finland Foundation, will be exhibited to the public for the first time.
An art director at an advertising agency by day, Tom of Finland (1920-1991) began drawing his homoerotic fantasies by night, first distributing them in U.S. bodybuilding magazines and signing them with the pseudonym ‘Tom’ to avoid censure and arrest. The general public had only to look at a ‘sports’ or ‘health’ magazine to see Tom of Finland’s sensuous hyper-masculine figures, while an underground audience could access his overt erotica via a network of sex shops and leather bars.
Tom’s drawings didn’t just present homoerotic scenes – they fetishized the uniforms of the military and law-enforcement establishment, subverting the image of these homophobic institutions in a direct challenge to the emasculating stereotypes and prejudices of the time. His unabashed and unapologetic depictions of homosexuality shaped gay identity, inspired LGBTQI rights campaigners and invigorated popular culture, influencingthe aesthetics of artists as diverse as Freddie Mercury, Robert Mapplethorpe and John Paul Gaultier.
Tom of Finland Foundation co-founder and president Durk Dehner says: “We are delighted to be showing Tom of Finland’s iconic and important work to the UK public, introducing audiences in London to Tom’s mastery of multiple mediums spanning his lengthy artistic career.”
YASS Magazine meets Durk Dehner, the co-founder of Tom of Finland Foundation and takes you to the “Love and Liberation” exhibition.
House of Illustration curator Olivia Ahmad says: “Tom of Finland transformed his original perception of male sexuality and desire into a vital art that spoke to suppressed queer communities around the world and revolutionised the image of gay men in popular culture. Tom rejected the discrimination and conservative conventions of his time to celebrate love, intimacy and pleasure, and it’s no surprise that his message continues to resonate. We are extremely proud to present this overdue show of his work in the UK here at House of Illustration.”
Below you can see the backstage at the official launching party of the exhibition.
Tom of Finland is the artist name of Touko Laaksonen (1920, Kaarina – 1991, Helsinki). He signed his erotic work ‘Tom’ when his drawings were first published in 1957 and the now world-renowned ‘Tom of Finland’ was born. Tom produced more than 3,500 illustrations during his lifetime that transformed homoerotic art and had far-reaching influence on LGBTQ+ and popular culture.
Tom of Finland Foundation was established by Tom and his friend Durk Dehner. Now in their 35th year and based in Los Angeles, the Foundation is a non-profit organization that preserves the archive of Tom of Finland and supports contemporary erotic artists. The Foundation’s mission is to champion the cultural importance of erotic art and to promote healthier, more tolerant attitudes towards sexuality. This year they celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth: #TOMs100.
House of Illustration is the UK’s centre for illustration and graphic art. Its exhibition programme explores illustration from around the world, celebrating its rich and varied history and championing emerging talent. House of Illustration doesn’t just show illustration – it’s a place to learn and create, with a pioneering education programme for everyone from 2-year olds to retirees, beginners to professionals, all delivered by practising illustrators. A busy calendar of events includes talks, workshops, fairs and live drawing nights while the House of Illustration shop features exhibition merchandise and unique books, prints, cards and more from independent illustrators and makers.
The Finnish Institute in London promotes Finnish contemporary art in the UK and Ireland and helps artists, researchers and social and cultural actors to create international networks. It was founded in 1991 and is a non-profit, private foundation funded by The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.
A special thanks to the House of Illustration, the Tom of Finland Foundation and to Richard Villani (www.instagram.com/villaniproductions) for making this come true and all their help.