phd_date
navigation

exhibition slideshow
TOM of FINLAND

Original Drawings

Iconic Drawings from the Man Who Defined a Movement

On View
June 25 - August 6, 2011


Opening Night Reception
Saturday, June 25, 2011
7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.

(Your $10 donation benefits Tom of Finland Foundation)

View the VIDEO TOUR

Through special arrangement with The Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles and Feature Inc. in New York, PHD Gallery will exhibit 27 original graphite on paper drawings by Touko Laaksonen, aka TOM of FINLAND. Opening June 25th at PHD Gallery and continuing through August 6th, is the first EVER exhibition in St. Louis of ORIGINAL Tom of Finland drawings!!! The opening reception is Saturday, June 25, 7-10PM. Donations of $10 at the door will benefit Tom of Finland Foundation.

Tom's images of idealized masculinity are iconic but few people have seen anything other than reproductions proliferated on line. The PHD exhibition will showcase 12 "finished" graphite on paper drawings (designated NFS) and 15 "preliminary drawings" that will be offered for sale. Works culled from throughout his career will be on view.

If gay men have historically been portrayed as weak, pathetic, and sad individuals, then TOM's drawings blew this stereotype out of the water! His men were proud, happy and dignified. They were powerful and unapologetic and gay men saw these hyper-masculine images as heroes. Indeed, if you glance through comic books you'll see the depiction of most Super Heroes is not unlike the men in TOM's drawings. Tom's drawings espoused an ideal in sexual prowess, and worldly empowerment for gay men that lasts even today.

"In those days, a gay man was made to feel nothing but shame about his feelings and his sexuality. I wanted my drawings to counteract that, to show gay men being happy and positive about who they were. Oh, I didn't sit down to think this all out carefully. But I knew, right from the start, that my men were going to be proud and happy men!"

~ Tom of Finland

About TOM of FINLAND

Tom of Finland's real name is Touko - because he was born on 8 May 1920, on the south coast of Finland, and May in Finnish is "Toukokuu". His homeland had been independent for just three years when Touko was born, and outside its few cities the country was still rough and wild. The men who worked in the fields and woods, the farmers and loggers, were true frontiersmen, every bit as rough and wild as the countryside.

Touko grew up among those men but was not a part of their world. Both his parents were schoolteachers, and they raised Touko indoors in an atmosphere of art, literature and music. Obviously talented, by the time he was five he was playing the piano and drawing comic strips. He loved art, literature and music. But he loved those outdoorsmen even more. At that same age of five, Touko began to spy on a neighbor, a muscular, stomping farm boy whose name, "Urho", means "hero". Urho was the first in a long line of heroes to hold Tom's attention while he memorized every flex of their lean muscles, every humorous twist of their full lips.

In 1939, Touko went to art school in Helsinki to study advertising. His fascination with the male form expanded to include the sexy city types he found in that cosmopolitan port - construction workers, sailors, policemen - but he never dared proposition them. It was not until Stalin invaded Finland and Tom was drafted into a lieutenant's uniform that he found nirvana in the blackouts of World War II. At last, in the streets of the pitch-black city, he began to have the sex he had dreamed of with the uniformed men he lusted after, especially once the German soldiers had arrived in their irresistible jackboots. After the war, Touko went back to studying art and also took piano classes at the famed Sibelius Institute. Peace put an end to blackout sex and uniforms became rare again, so Touko returned to his teenage practice of locking himself in his room, stripping naked, and stroking himself with one hand while the other hand created on paper what he could seldom find on the streets.

By day, he did freelance artwork - advertising, window displays, fashion design. In the evenings, he played the piano at parties and cafes, becoming a popular member of Helsinki's post-war bohemian set. He avoided the fledgling gay scene, because what were then called "artistic" bars were dominated by the flamboyant effeminacy typical of the time. He traveled frequently, becoming very familiar with the gay cruising areas found in every major city. Still, in 1953, when he met Veli, the man with whom he would live for the next 28 years, it was on a street corner a few blocks from home.

At the end of 1956, at the urging of a friend, Touko sent his secret artwork to a popular American muscle magazine, but, being cautious in those paranoid times, and anyway thinking that "Touko Laaksonen" was too tough a name for American tongues, he signed them,"Tom". The editor loved them. The cover of the Spring 1957 issue of "Physique Pictorial" features a laughing lumberjack, drawn by "Tom of Finland". It was a sensation. Touko became Tom of Finland. The rest is history.

The demand for what Tom always called his "dirty drawings" grew quickly, but neither erotic art nor homosexual art paid very well in the Fifties. He soon stopped playing the piano in order to devote the time to his drawing, but it would be 1973 before Tom of Finland was making enough money for Touko Laaksonen to be able to quit his daytime job in advertising. Once he could devote his efforts full-time to his erotic drawing, Tom combined photorealistic attention to detail with his wildest sexual fantasies to produce a body of work that, for sheer homoerotism, will probably never be surpassed.

1973 was also the year of Tom's first art exhibition, in Hamburg, Germany, but that experience was so negative (all but one of the drawings were stolen) that it would be 1978 before he would agree to another exhibit, in Los Angeles, for which he made his first trip to America. Over the next couple of years, a series of exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, with trips to America for each one, turned the shy Helsinki artist into an international gay celebrity with friends the like of Etienne and Robert Mapplethorpe. The business end of his career was taken up by a Canadian American, Durk Dehner, and under his capable management Tom at last had financial security. In 1981, Tom's lover, Veli, died of throat cancer; at the same time, the AIDS epidemic began to hit hard the very cities and circles of friends he had so recently come to love in America. Still, throughout the Eighties, the trips to America continued to increase until Tom was spending six months in L.A. with Durk Dehner for every six he spent back in Helsinki. After emphysema was diagnosed in 1988, Tom was forced to curtail his beloved traveling but continued to draw.

When the disease, and the medication, made his hand tremble too much for him to execute the finely detailed work for which he had become famous, Tom switched back to a childhood favorite, pastel, executing a richly colored series of nudes in that medium almost up until his death from an emphysema-induced stroke on 7 November 1991. In spite of his own affectionate term, Tom's work must be considered more than just "dirty drawings", and given some of the credit for the change in the gay world's self-image. When Tom's work was first published, homosexuals thought they had to be imitation women, and spent their lives hiding in the shadows. Thirty-five years later, gay men were much more likely to be hard-bodied sun-lovers in boots and leather, masculinity personified. Tom's influence in that direction was no accidental byproduct of his art. From the beginning, he consciously strove to instill in his work a positive, up-beat openness. When asked if he was not a little embarrassed that all his art showed men having sex, he disagreed emphatically: "I work very hard to make sure that the men I draw having sex are proud men having happy sex!"

Tom's work is part of many public and private collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, The Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana, The Art Institute of Chicago, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Kiasma, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

"I know my little 'dirty drawings' are never going to hang in the main salons of the Louvre, but it would be nice if -- I would like to say 'when,' but I better say 'if' -- our world learns to accept all the different ways of loving. Then maybe I could have a place in one of the smaller side rooms."

~ Tom of Finland


about us  |  past exhibitions  |  current exhibitions  |  future exhibitions  |  artists
media  |  special events  |  facility rental  |  contact us  |  submissions  |  links