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9 Things to Know About the Artist Before Seeing Tom of Finland

9 Things to Know About the Artist Before Seeing 'Tom of Finland'

9 Things to Know About the Artist Before Seeing 'Tom of Finland'

The gay cultural icon will be remembered in his very own feature-length biopic that is set to be released in 2017. Read up on the artist who brought you the O.G. bicep/booty/bulge fantasy. 


If you're queer, you've probably seen a work or two from Tom of Finland. His big, bulging, uniformed men adorn booths at every Pride festival, appear in classic gay films, and generally ruled my dreams from ages 11-13.

The new Tom of Finland biopic—probably not coming to the theater in your local shopping mall in early 2017—was released over the weekend. To help you prep for the film's release, we've collected a bit of info on the iconic artist, courtesty of the Tom of Finland Foundation and Valentine Hooven III, Tom's biographer.

1. Tom was a veteran of multiple wars, mostly against the USSR

Tom fought in the Winter War against Soviet Russia and in World War II. If you've ever wondered "Why all the leather?"—now you know.

2. Tom's a prime example of how wartime loosens men's sexual inhibitions

While he had lusted after boys since his youth, it wasn’t until after Joseph Stalin invaded Finland and Tom was drafted into the Winter War as a lieutenant that he was able to find release in Helsinki’s citywide blackouts during the Russian bombing campaigns. 

3. After Tom was finished fighting the Russians, he joined the fight to subvert and eventually abolish homophobic censorship laws

By publishing art that was clearly made for homosexuals under the guise of fitness publications, Tom was part of an historic movement that did everything it could to fight for representation on its own terms. Publications like PRIDE, The Advocate, and OUT owe artists like Tom gratitude for their bravery—and from what we can see in the Tom of Finland trailer, it wasn't always a fair fight.

4. His first art exhibition didn't go so well

After all the fighting to get his work legally permissable to show in public, the public still wasn't happy with Tom's art. According to Hooven III, all but one of his drawings were stolen at his 1973 exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, and it took five years for the artist to have another showing, which finally materialized in '70s Los Angeles. Given the reaction to his first exhibition, and all the fighting it took to get there, let's all say a little thank you that he decided to continue drawing. 

5. Tom's protégé, Durk Dehner, looked like one of his drawings jumped off the page

Dehner still serves as the president of the Tom of Finland Foundation, which he founded in 1984. Check out his interview along with former TOFF president S.R. Sharp in 2015 for OUT

6. You can see Tom's fantasy men beat the runway on YouTube

His work was not only inspired by life—specifically by German men in jackboots—but was brought to life by designers Gary Robinson and David Johnson, who created fashion shows that thrust his masculine fantasies onto the runway. While YouTube has quite of few of these shows available to stream, I recommend checking out the below 1999 spring collection runway show, which started off with a wonderful homage to his classic motorcycle scenes.

7. Tom's art was, and in some circles still is, at the center of an intense argument about gay men and gender roles

It's pretty easy to see that his work reveres a hypermasculine version of men: guns a'blazing, junk the size of tree trunks, leather from head to toe. It could go without saying that Tom had his preferences when it came to men.

According to Hooven III, those preferences excluded "the fledgling gay scene" in '40s and '50s Helsinki, "because what were then called 'artistic' bars were dominated by the flamboyant effeminacy typical of the time." The biographer also credits Tom and his art for "change in the gay world's self-image" from "imitation women" to "hard-bodied sun-lovers in boots and leather, masculinity personified."

8. Tom’s real name is Touko Laaksonen

His first name is the Finnish name for his birth month, May. How cute is that?

9. You can catch him in two documentaries before the release of his biopic

YouTube has a clip of a shorter interview with the artist by just years before his death in 1991, and Amazon has two copies of the 1991 documentary by Ilppo Pohjola entitled Daddy and the Muscle Academy, available for purchase on DVD. Should those get snatched up in the coming weeks, check your local library or independent video store.

And, of course, check out the Finnish trailer for the upcoming biopic! We'll have the international version for you as soon as it hits the web.

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Ian Martella