Tom of Finland’s erotica has made him an icon in the arts, pop culture, and the LGBTQ+ community. Even tattoo artists have replicated the images of the groundbreaking homoerotic artist.
When was the last time you saw a pornographic image and thought it was art? Recently, I rediscovered Tom of Finland’s work thanks to some tattoos inspired by the cult artist of LGBTQ+ erotica. His work focuses on images of hypersexualized male bodies, sexual freedom, and fantasies. It also subverted stereotypes at a time when homosexuality was strongly frowned upon. Through his art, he became an icon and now he’s being paid tribute in these ten tattoos inspired by the man who dared celebrate masculinity.
Born in 1920 as Touko Laaksonen, (he adopted a pseudonym to avoid persecution from Finnish law) he grew up in Kaarina, a small town in Finland where most people made a living from construction and lumbering. Later, he moved to Helsinki to work in advertisement until he was called to serve as an anti-aircraft officer in the Finnish Army during World War II. Both his traditional upbringing and service in the army influenced his homoerotic drawings.
Right after the sexual revolution, Laaksonen moved to the United States, where he found acceptance, celebration, and a platform for his art to be seen. His cartoons were appealing, revolutionary, and subversive. No other artist had told homoerotic stories like he did, depicting hypersexualized men who reflected stereotyped masculinities and sexual encounters on trains, the forest, battlefields, and wood workshops. He drew construction workers, lumberjacks, soldiers, sailors, policemen, teachers, and students revolving around forbidden affectionate relationships. He wanted to break the stereotype of the effeminate gay and present a new version, a new fantasy of gay sexuality (though, maybe without knowing, he was upholding new stereotypes in the gay community: the bear, the hunk, the twink).
Part of his signature style was the depiction of leather in his drawings. Male bodies with accentuated muscles and genitalia that could be perceived through their tight leather jeans and jackets can be found throughout his whole work. Yet, the stories were somehow satirical. He ridiculed men with power by presenting super macho men, those who beat “queer guys” for their looks and behavior, being kinky and sexual with those who they disliked in public, but desired in private.
Tom of Finland was an anti-hero who redefined gay culture. The cartoon pornographer, as some have called him, had great influence in pop culture as well. Back in the eighties, the looks in his comics were copied by other artists like Freddie Mercury himself. He’s also had presentations at the MOMA and MOCA. Then, he received his highest honor and recognition when his work was featured on the national Finnish post stamps. So, getting a tattoo with one of his many images has become a statement about embracing gay culture, identity, and being subversive, but mostly, of being unapologetically free.
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