“All my drawings make me hard,” Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strong) says in a way to describe his art. Laaksonen, better known as ‘Tom of Finland’ is known for his hyper-sexualized drawings, and I remember there was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when I saw these drawings everywhere – at bars, clubs and gay bookstores. I liked them, though I wouldn’t say I was fascinated by them, and saw them more as comic-artistic rather than erotic. But after watching ‘Tom of Finland,’ I am inclined to check them out again, perhaps even buy a coffee table book of his work, as after learning about Laaksonen’s life, perhaps I would see the art in a different light than before.
This is because he seems to have led a very interesting life. In his youth he was a Finnish soldier fighting the Nazis, even killing a Russian soldier by knife. Then he discovers his talent for art, and it was interesting the way his art evolved over the years. Dome Karukoski directed this film and I wish it was more focused on his art, because that is the aspect I was most interested at. We only get small glimpses of everything else – of how he hid his art in Finland to survive (he says it is easier to publish his work in Vatican than Finland) to how his art was discovered in California in the 60s. The film doesn’t present a full description of anything, as it is told in a very conventional biographical way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think a film celebrating one of the most barrier-breaking artists in gay modern times deserves better. But, I am glad that this story is out there, and that is is told, and for that reason I heartily recommend this film.