The artist Tom of Finland will receive an exhibition in March 2020 at the House of Illustration in London—the first major solo show in the UK dedicated to the late Finnish pioneer.
Tom of Finland (aka Touko Valio Laaksonen) is best known for his highly homoerotic depictions of hyper-masculine men decked out in biker leather gear, which inspired a generation of gay men with their bulging muscles and jutting jawlines.
The upcoming exhibition will explore how Tom of Finland circumnavigated legal restrictions before the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Finland in 1971. For instance, by drawing scenes of men fighting as a way of showing physical contact between the well-endowed figures depicted.
The show's curator Olivia Ahmad, who is bringing together around 40 works dating from 1961 to 1988, says that Tom’s work was “significant for both gay culture and pop culture”.
Several previously unseen works will come from the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles. “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,” Ahmad says.
She adds: “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, examining the way he showed men in police uniform for example, which was of course very subversive.”