ON November 7th we remember one of our saints whose gift of erotic artistry and wry humor influenced the Stonewall generation — Saint Tom of Finland.
Tom of Finland's style was so identifiable, so iconic, that it was immediately recognizable. Whether signed or unsigned, his emblematic pencil and ink drawings are always recognizably his.
He became so closely identified with his iconic art that few people ever suspected that his name was not actually Tom, though he was indeed Finnish.
Touko Laaksonen was born in Kaarina Finland on May 8th, 1920, and he died on November 7th, 1991. He studied art in Helsinki and worked as a graphic artist during the 1940s and '50s. On the side he began to master his particular style and vision of male beauty.
His entry into gay erotic art came in 1957 when he submitted drawings to the American bodybuilder magazine Physique Pictorial, a pioneer publication in the field of gay porn from the days when it was still a federal offense to send "indecent images" through the mail. He then started to use the name Tom of Finland.
His art was an overt display of gay sexuality during the dark years of repression that preceded Stonewall. It is said that his images fueled the hearts of young, future gay rights advocates because of their defiant and utterly masculine depiction of the homosexual ideal.
He was among the first to vividly display the fully engorged phallus, Priapic in its proportions, throwing off the censorship that had kept it hidden for hundreds of years.
During the late '60s and early '70s his erotic images were received with acclaim and became the subject of museum exhibitions, and they soon entered the heart of gay culture as one of the most widely recognized and often copied images of gay sexuality.
His depictions of extremely masculine, homosexual vitality were a reflection of the deepest erotic fantasies of all gay men, elevating a new form of Priapism into an icon of homoeroticism.
He met his lifetime partner Veli on a dark street corner in 1953. Veli was the love of his life.
For nearly 30 years they shared their lives. Veli died in 1981. Touko Laaksonen died in Helsinki on November 7th, 1991.