In addition to being the life partner of– and collaborator with world famous Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jaanson, Tuulikki Pietilä was an accomplished graphic artist and professor in her own right. She had nearly two decades of formal study in her profession, during which she began participating in exhibitions; her first solo attempt came midway through her time in Paris, two years before she finally completed her schooling. Her relationship with Jaanson (also originating during her student years) was marked by its longevity and its peace (they ran a gallery and vacationed together) as well as its openness: the two released footage of their time together in several documentaries in the mid-1990s, making them a visible Finnish same-sex couple.
Since the age of 15 when she began working as an illustrator for satirical magazine Garm, Tove Jansson (later the creator of a popular children’s book series about large-snouted creatures called Moomins) made her living off of art. During World War II her cartoons remained lighthearted as a protest against the grimness of her wartime context; the Moomins even made their debut there, though in a darker, less polished form. Jansson went on to write dozens of books, including several for adults, and remained oppressively busy between writing a Moomin comic strip and answering every piece of fan mail she received. Her adorable critters remain popular in Finland (museum and all) even following her death.
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.