Happy Tom of Finland Day! We celebrate the artist’s legacy

With new events celebrating Tom of Finland’s homoerotic art, and foundation president Durk Dehner awarded the Order of the Lion of Finland, we applaud a cultural icon and those preserving his legacy

Tom of Finland's erotic sketches
A 2015 project by Henzel Studio saw a series of Tom of Finland sketches turned into rugs, underlining their modernity and relevance
(Image credit: Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation / Henzel Studio)

On Tom of Finland Day – what would have been Tom of Finland’s 103rd birthday (8 May 2023) – we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on the iconoclastic artist’s creative and mission-driven legacy, whose significance has continued to deepen, especially in light of the current political and social climes.

Artist pencil sketch back shot of a muscular male, sleeveless denim jacket, low rise jeans, long boots, right arm stretched out hitching a lift

Tom of Finland, untitled preparatory drawing, 1977

(Image credit: Tom of Finland. © Tom of Finland Foundation)

Born Tuoko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland (1920-1991), Tom of Finland’s homoerotic artworks, often characterised by muscly men, clad in skin-tight leather and proudly showing off their bulges (both large and XXL) need no introduction. The prominence of his titillating oeuvre in popular culture today is largely down to the work of the Tom of Finland Foundation, which was founded in 1984 by the artist and his friend Duke Dehner, who still presides over it today. 

Daytime image outside Tom of Finlands House, Tall hedges, black parked car on road, palm tree trunks, top half of house, tiled roof , windows, backdrop image of the bricked doorway, cardboard cut out black and white male in policeman's uniform, paved path to the side of the house, trees and small hedges and ceramic plant pot

Wallpaper* US Director Michael Reynolds and photographer Jack Pierson documented Tom House, the Tom of Finland Foundation HQ, in LA’s Echo Park, back in 2014. The 1910 house, purchased by the artist’s friend Durk Dehner and others in 1979, became home to Touko Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland) from 1980 until his passing in 1991

(Image credit: Jack Pierson)

In addition to securing and preserving the legitimacy of Tom’s work in the art world for almost four decades, the foundation now also preserves complementary erotic art from other artists of all genders and orientations as part of its growing permanent collection (we looked in on its 2022 group show, ‘AllTogether’, in Venice).

Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival 2023, Berlin

Poster for Tom of Finland exhibition

(Image credit: Courtesy Tom of Finland Foundation)

It’s a mission certainly worth protecting and one that continues to gain long overdue recognition. The Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival 2023 opens in Berlin this week (12 – 14 May), before travelling to London and Los Angeles in July and October 2023 respectively. Titled ‘Global Sexual’, the festival promises to bring together artists, galleries and patrons in a social and friendly setting where they can socialise, and buy and sell work.

‘It's the perfect moment in time to remember an artist who drew a world that we all wanted to live in – and we did – and took it to the streets,' says SR Sharp, the foundation's chief experience officer. 'Not only did he give us a strong, positive identity, he altered the way we were perceived by society. From porn shops to galleries to museum walls, Tom's work forms a coalition of those who want to inhabit a globe where humans can thrive, unshackled from shame.'

‘Bold Journey’ at Kiasma, Finland

The event comes hot on the heels of the opening of ‘Bold Journey’ (until 29 October 2023), a retrospective of Tom’s work at the Kiasma museum of contemporary art in Finland that is structured around his biography and the characters he created.

Spanning his six-decade career, the exhibition showcases childhood drawings, a trove of archive material and even a virtual tour of Tom’s house in Los Angeles, where he wintered for the last decade of his life. At the preview opening for the show, Dehner was presented with the Order of the Lion of Finland, acknowledging his work in preserving and promoting one of the country’s most foremost artists.

Durk Dehner with medal

Durk Dehner, Knight of the Order of the Lion of Finland

(Image credit: Tero Puha)

‘The friendship and collaboration between the iconic Tom of Finland… and Durk Dehner has had a huge impact on how the global gay community has become proud of their identity,’ said Paula Parviainen, ambassador for culture and creative industries, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. She went on to mention Dehner’s ‘great achievement in promoting human rights and personal freedoms’.

‘Tom of Finland: Bold Journey’ is now on view at Kiasma, Finland, until 29 October, kiasma.fi 

Tom of Finland Art & Culture Festival 2023: ‘GlobalSexual’, 12 – 14 May, prideART at The Knast, Söhtstraße 7, 12203 Berlin, Germany, tomoffinland.org

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.