More popularly known by his pseudonym “Tom of Finland,” Laaksonen was among the most influential gay erotica artists of the 20th century. His figures often sported exaggerated primary and secondary sexual characteristics (including penises just short of crowbar-sized and torsos in the shape of equilateral triangles, sometimes in absurd positions) and tight or missing clothing designed to show them off. In defiance of the “sissy” stereotype that was present at the time, he focused on working-class and military men, drawing inspiration from – and feeding into – leather culture.
Laaksonen’s early works were a curious consequence of US censorship codes. To get around the ban on “overt homosexual acts,” Laaksonen and similar artists would publish their pieces under the guise of fitness advice. When male nudity was ruled not obscene in a Supreme Court decision, the “beefcake” magazines quickly folded as their artists moved on to more overtly homoerotic publications. It was at that point that Laaksonen’s work really took off into a cultural force, creating defining fetishistic fashions for the gay male community.
Recently, Finland has announced a new line of stamps featuring Laaksonen’s images in honor of his artistic impact.