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Tom of Finland

The Darkroom

A black and white portrait of a man in uniform wearing black leather gloves
A black and white photograph of a shirtless man with a mohawk whispering to another man in a black tank top
Photo: Tom of Finland, Tom & Tom Katt, 1984, Silver Gelatin Print, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1984-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation
A black and white photographic artwork of a man in uniform's side profile
Photo: Tom of Finland, Untitled, 1977, Graphite on paper, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1977-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation

Tom of Finland, with his desire and skill, positively portrayed and drew masculine, attractive, confident men in homoerotic poses – dressed in uniforms, leather, rubber and fetish gear – thoroughly challenging contemporary society. At the same time, he was highly regarded by queer folk and members of the Leather/Fetish community. Curator Berndt Arell shares –

This never before shown treasure trove of images gives a deeper insight into how his skillfully drawn super-macho men were created. Each drawing could consist of several references from several different photographs. The drawings show the men always full of confidence, and always ready, since Tom of Finland’s art, for him, wasn’t about problematising, but about desire and the right to express it.

About Tom of Finland

Tom of Finland is celebrated internationally for his prolific and positive portrayal of confident gay men. His representational subjects are masculine, attractive, endowed with pronounced muscles and genitalia, and often dressed in uniforms or leather gear. His depictions of queer culture thoroughly challenged contemporary society, and solidified his place as one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.

Tom grew up in a Finland where homosexuality was punishable by law until 1971 and classified a mental disorder until 1981. Here, he secretly photographed his models as references for his drawings – works that were to become coveted in underground gay culture. With increasing openness in the West, he would later live half the year in Los Angeles where gay freedoms were flourishing, and his art spread across the world.

He took a correspondence course with a marketing and advertising school during the late 1930s and into the mid 1940s, and studied piano and composition at the Sibelius Academy during the 1940s, as well. He also worked as a pianist for restaurants, schools and theatres in Helsinki, as an art director at McCann Helsinki until 1973, and as a full-time artist thereafter.