Tom of Finland's illustrations of bikies, leathermen and soldiers, once disguised as porn is now high art.

Tom Of Finland’s Beefcake Boys

Under the pseudonym ‘Tom of Finland,’ Touko Valio Laaksonen created a name for himself with his now iconic illustrations of the male form in all its glory and exaggerated parts, chiseled chests and right-angle jawlines.

Young and buff in tight clothing, though often in a state of undress, Laaksonen’s drawings quickly found the Tom of Finland look we know today. From lumberjacks to bikies, and construction workers to any other hyper-masculine occupation or working class group, there was no style, trend or uniform out of bounds for Laaksonen. Even the Nazis couldn’t escape getting subverted by Tom of Finland. “They had the sexiest uniforms!” said the former anti-aircraft officer who fought against the Germans for the Finnish army in World War II. 

Not only did Laaksonen’s illustrations ooze a powerful, testosterone-filled energy but they offered an alternative to the then-prevailing stereotypes of gay men as effeminate. However, because homosexuality was still illegal, Laaksonen’s art landed ‘beefcake’ magazines – porn in the guise of the growing pastime of body building, featuring strapping young lads with their chests inflated and biceps on show. Physique Pictorial was one of the first to run Tom’s illustrations in 1957, and it was editor Bob Mizer who actually dubbed him Tom of Finland.

But as the laws around gay porn and male nudity changed in the 1970s, his work became more celebrated in the art world and moved into the mainstream. But ever one to push the boundaries, Tom’s illustrations became more explicit and more photorealistic.

These days his work is part of New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection as well as LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and of course the Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki.

In 1984 the Tom of Finland Foundation was established to collect, preserve and exhibit homoerotic artwork. In 1991 a doco was made of Laaksonen’s life and works, Daddy and the Muscle Academy.

Touko Laaksonen died in 1991 of an emphysema-induced stroke. 

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