Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, better known to most of the world as Tom of Finland, is at the center of a new exhibit at Artists Space in SoHo running now through August 23. If you live in New York or you will be in the area you should NOT miss this!
The Pleasure of Play is the most comprehensive Tom of Finland survey exhibition to date, spanning six decades to include more than 180 drawings, 1930s childhood paper dolls, the full set of 1940s gouaches along with triptychs, individual drawings, storyboards and over 300 reference pages.
Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland (1920, Kaarina – 1991, Helsinki), was a child of grammar school teachers and grew up in rural Finland. At the age of 19 he enrolled in a distance learning advertising course. Soon drafted, he joined the Finnish Army in its fight against the Soviet invasion. After the war he stayed in Helsinki, studying classical piano at the renowned Sibelius Academy. While at the Academy, Tom of Finland worked as freelance graphic designer, later becoming senior art director at the Helsinki office of the global advertising agency McCann Erickson.
While living life as an adman in Helsinki, his global career as an iconic gay figure was jumpstarted in 1950s Los Angeles, through his ongoing contributions to Bob Mizer’s publication Physique Pictorial. From the 1960s onwards, he frequently published his now well-known comic series with the Danish publishing house DFT, COQ International and the Swedish Revolt Press, and later through his own Tom of Finland Company.
In 1978, Tom of Finland had his first New York exhibition at Stompers, a boots store in the West Village. His first gallery exhibition was at Feyway Studios, San Francisco, where Tom of Finland was befriended by Robert Mapplethorpe, who in 1980 helped him get his first major New York exhibition at Robert Samuel Gallery.
During his 17 years at McCann, a job he quit in 1973, Tom of Finland started traveling extensively throughout Europe. On his many trips, particularly to London, Hamburg and Berlin, he would take his drawings to sell or to gift to men that he met in the local gay scene, thus proliferating his work while establishing an underground distribution network, and with it a network of friends and admirers.
Last modified: Aug 4, 2015