Illustrating Iconic Gay Culture: Tom of Finland Tattoos

Illustrating Iconic Gay Culture: Tom of Finland Tattoos

Want a provocative piece? You got it. These Tom of Finland tattoos tip their shiny leather hats to an icon and illustrator of gay culture.

At first glance, they may just seem like illustrations of super beefy dudes doing highly provocative things...but these drawings are much more than that. A celebration of gay culture, Tom of Finland's artwork was, and still is, incredibly revolutionary as a visualization of a homoerotic hyper-masculinity that, when it first arrived onto the scene in 1957. These Tom of Finland tattoos help show just how transformative, inspiring, and uplifting, his work can be for so many people. Queer tattoos are constantly in demand, and his life's work is a huge part of that. No matter the placement, these seductive pieces provide a peak into the fantasy life of some very sexy leather daddies and raunchy truckers.

Tom of Finland, whose actual name is Touko Valio Laaksonen, does, in fact, hail from Finland. His preoccupation with men in uniform is also no accident. Tom, himself, was conscripted into the army in 1940, during World War II. He is quoted as saying, "In my drawings I have no political statements to make, no ideology. I am thinking only about the picture itself. The whole Nazi philosophy, the racism and all that, is hateful to me, but of course I drew them anyway—they had the sexiest uniforms!" Some of these Tom of Finland tattoos do, indeed, depict sailors, and cops. Acetates chose to bedeck his stomach tattoo with a Muir cap, originally produced for German officers during World War II. This particular hat soon became part of the underground biking and the queer friendly gay scene of the 1950's.

While biker and motorcycle tattoos are pretty common, the bikers that Tom of Finland depicted in his illustrations were from a different sort of sub-culture. Taking inspiration from ultra-masculine men like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, the men in Tom of Finland tattoos and original drawings had a unique take on gay culture...which is part of what made them so important. At the time that Tom was getting a foothold in magazines like Physique Pictorial, gay men were almost always depicted in mainstream society as weak, passive or sad. However, as you can see from these tattoo's, there was nothing "sissy" about Tom's men. They were assertive, strong, and empowered. It was special; these works of art started conversations about power play, tenderness during BDSM, and kink. Tom of Finland's pieces were powerful then, and they're still powerful now.

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These Tom of Finland tattoos also do a great job of showing many of the stylistic choices that he used to depict his characters. Although the bulging muscles and lurid situations do tend to distract from the incredible skill that Tom employed to create his works of art, his aesthetic approach was highly sophisticated. Often using pencils, the shades and shadows of the characters within his portraits were smooth, and he was able to capture the subtle qualities of skin, leather, hair, and other textures beautifully. The upper arm tattoo by Mr Lauder perfectly depicts the shine on the hat and pants, another stylistic tendency that Tom was known for, while the thigh tattoo by Craig Ridley illustrated the way Tom shaded muscle and skin so sleekly.

Another important aspect to mention is that while you may not be particularly interested in these erotic tattoos, Tom of Finland himself, and the foundation that continues to carry his name, helped support and preserve erotic fine art in general. In the late 50's and 60's U.S. censorship codes banned "overt homosexual acts", as well as a number of other things, from being depicted in any form...which meant that all of the good stuff we take advantage of today, including these awesome tattoos, was illegal. Artists like Tom, and his foundation, make sure that everyone has a safe place to express themselves how they see fit. Which, thankfully, includes these shiny, sexy beefcakes.

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