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Unseen homoerotic work from queer icon Tom of Finland will be displayed in London for the very first time

Reiss Smith January 3, 2020
Tom of Finland London

The Tom of Finland exhibition will bring together well-known images with unseen drawings like that on the left. (Tom of Finland Foundation)

Tom of Finland will receive his first major UK solo show later this year, with several previously unseen works set to be displayed in London.

The Finnish artist, known for his subversive, sexualised portraits of sailors, policeman and bulging leather-clad bikers, will be remembered in a far-reaching retrospective at London’s House of Illustration to celebrate the centenary of his birth.

‘The exhibition will look at the significance of these images in gay culture, and will also consider the influence of Tom’s figures on pop culture and fashion,” the show’s curator Olivia Ahmad told The Art Newspaper.

London Tom of Finland exhibition will include leather policemen drawings.

A particular point of interest for Ahmad is the way Tom fetishised men in police uniform.

Among his most famous drawings were those that depicted beefcake officers in compromising positions with criminals, truncheons at full mast.

This aesthetic influenced a generation of men both queer and straight, including Freddie Mercury and The Village People’s Glenn Hughes, as well as countless other, non-famous leather men.

Opening in March 2020, the exhibition will also explore how Tom – real name Touko Valio Laaksonen – managed to flout Finland’s restrictive homophobic laws.

Much of Tom’s work came before the ban on gay sex was lifted in 1971. As such, many of his softcore drawings show men fighting one another, as a way of depicting physical contact without being explicitly sexual.

Meanwhile, his explicit illustrations were distributed underground, in sex shops and leather bars.

Exhibition brings unseen artworks to London.

Ahmad has gathered around 40 works dating from 1961 to 1988, including some unseen pieces from the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles that might not be immediately familiar to fans.

“Something we’re working on with the foundation is representing how versatile Tom was as an artist, and so as well as showing the kind of monochromatic works in pencil that have become his signature, we will have some more stylised works, works in colour and linocuts,” she explained.

Since it decriminalised homophobia, Finland has reclaimed Tom as one of its proudest exports.

Over the years his artwork has featured on a set of official stamps, and as a series of emojis released to celebrate Finland introducing marriage equality.

More: house of illustration, London, queer art, tom of finland

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