Touko Laaksonen, who used the artist name Tom of Finland, was raised by his parents, who were schoolteachers, 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. In 1939, Touko went to art school in Helsinki to study advertising. It was not until Stalin invaded Finland and Tom was drafted into a lieutenant's uniform that he came out as a homosexual. After the war, Touko went back to studying art and also took piano classes at the famed Sibelius Institute. 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 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 artwork to a popular American muscle magazine, signing them "Tom of Finland". The editor loved them. The demand for what Tom always called his "dirty drawings" grew quickly, but neither erotic art nor homosexual art paid very well in the 1950s. It was not until 1973 that he was able to quit his daytime job. Now that he could devote his full-time efforts to erotic drawing, Tom combined photorealistic attention to detail with his wild sexual fantasies to produce a body of work that, for sheer homoerotism, will probably never be surpassed.
Kake, by Tom of Finland
Out of all of Tom's creations, 'Kake' must have been his favorite, because he drew at least 26 complete illustrated stories of his sexploits, amounting to over 500 drawings. With his classic masculine good-looks, easy going "anytime, anywhere" attitude and tight-fitting black leather, Kake has become an all-time favorite of male erotica. More than ever, Kake personifies a much-needed icon of masculine, healthy, happy, non-stereotypical homoeroticism.
During the seventies, after exhibitions in Hamburg, Germany, and Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, Tom turned into an international gay celebrity. After emphysema was diagnosed in 1988, Tom was forced to stop traveling but continued to draw. When the disease and the medication made his hand tremble too much for him to do the finely detailed work for which he had become famous, Tom switched back to a childhood favorite - pastels - producing a richly colored series of pastel nudes until he died from an emphysema-induced stroke in November of 1991.