Out On Display #18: Tom of Finland
Tom of Finland stamps
Postage stamps, offset lithography
Designed by Timo Berry, 2014
Given by Andrei Korepanov
On display in room 74A
Tom of Finland (1920 – 1991) was the creator of some of the most enduring and erotic drawings of gay male life in the 20th century. Since his work burst onto the scene in 1956, it has fuelled the culture, fashions and fantasies of subsequent generations of gay men.
Born Touko Laaksonen, in a small village outside Turku in Finland, he moved to Helsinki aged 19 to attend art school. His studies were almost immediately interrupted by the outbreak of WWII and he joined the army. Plunged into a hyper masculine, uniformed environment, the war years provided him with a lifetime of inspiration.
Eschewing the gay subcultures he discovered for being too effeminate, Touko assumed his famed pseudonym and created a fantasy world of square-jawed bikers, beefy lumberjacks and saucy sailors. Snapped up by Physique Pictorial, the leading magazine of its kind, Tom’s star never waned.
His work, alongside artists like Blade and George Quaintance, was a precursor to the emerging defiant queer subculture, one which rejected homophobia, invisibility, and indignity. In a time when it was still illegal to be gay, Tom’s work exuded strength and pride.
These stamps are from a series of three issued by the Finnish postal service in September 2014. Despite opposition to them, first day cover pre-orders sold out, with purchases made from 178 countries.
This particular envelope was sent from Finland to Russia in the midst of diminishing acceptance of homosexuality in Russia.