Tom of Finland; Artist, Finnish, Socialite… gay?

We are all fans of Tom of Finland; Which sensitive young man can prevent their head turning at his detailed pencil drawings, their artful curves, their stirring images of society’s protectors? The career of Touko Laaksonen (real name – ed) is prodigious indeed, having creating over 3500 works celebrating the armed forces and the honest man’s working day. But a recent controversial article written by John Ronald, former professor of art history at Oxford University, has questioned Touko’s sexuality and the true meaning of his art. SPOCSYM is on hand to analyse the evidence of both sides and ascertain the truth of Ronald’s bold claims.

Artful Curves

Voice of the Uniform?

Tom of Finland earned his fame with his bold depictions of the uniformed man, at both rest and work. Chronicling the day to day business of these honourable men was his apparent goal. His respect for these men was stoked into a defensive inferno with the Vietnam War and the consequent surge in anti-war protests. A great swathe of the public rejected their own forces on seeing the realities of armed conflict, a fact with which Touko was both mystified and horrified.

Touko was classically known to be sympathetic with the cause of these positions, he viewed as misunderstood, ingratiating himself with men of uniform to better understand their plight. Here he is below, quoted from an interview in 1970, explaining his art.

'brave defenders of justice'

Laaksonen: ‘…Yes, I do think it is important! There has been much criticism of the armed forces recently. These men are brave defenders of justice, fighting for our rights to be free. They are not murdering baby killers. I think we would all do well to remember this, to appreciate these men for the sacrifices they have made. I try to reflect this in my art, depicting the reality of what these men do, to readdress the skewed image portrayed by the media‘…

Indeed, with Tuoko’s proffering, it is easy to see ‘Sailor Heroic’ rather than ‘Agent Orange’. The manner in which the terrified human jetsam clings to his saviour is indicative of Laaksonen’s view that, without these proud men to protect us, we would all be adrift.

Consider others: Observe these pieces below, works celebrating the uniform, the stern and gentle nature of these characters.



Order in the face of chaos?

Surely these are the products of an artist willing to champion the police? Fill the role of the lieutenant? Lead the besmirched reputation of the uniform from the back alley shadows to the brilliance of day? John Ronald thinks otherwise.

More Than Propaganda?

The controversy was started by John Ronald, former professor of Art History at the world famous Oxford University. Now retired, Ronald spends his time working on creative writing projects and art criticism for TATE ETC, Britain’s foremost art magazine.

It was whilst drawing inspiration from Laaksonen’s ouvre for his forthcoming novel that he became aware of the ‘teeming homoerotic undercurrents’, which he later wrote about in a controversial article for TATE ETC.

John Ronald - Sceptic

John Ronald was more than happy to be interviewed by the SPOCSYM team, stating a platform for open debate should never be refused. Highlights of this interview are below, with a full transcription to be made available shortly.

SPOCSYM: Mr John Ronald! How are you?

RONALD: I’m doing great thank you, it’s lovely to speak finally.

SPO: It is, it is. Okay, lets get this started! Tom of Finland’s work has been unquestionably the champion of the forces, of the man of uniform, until now that is. Could you give us the outline of your hypothesis on his output?

RON: Of course. My article argues for the existence of strong homosexual themes concealed by this… ‘uniform propaganda’.

SPO: Bold Claims!

RON: Indeed! I expected a stir but not quite the furore surrounding all this now! Regardless, I believe I have the necessary evidence to back my arguements.

SPO: Well if someone is qualified, it is you John!

RON: [laughs] Thank you!

SPO: Right, could you go over what you consider the most compelling evidence?

[Ronald pulls a number of prints by Tuoko Laaksonen and hands them to SPOCSYM].

RON: I believe much of it, speaks for itself. Please look at the top one, yes that’s it [article A].

Article A

RON: Could you describe what you see please.

SPO: Of course. Two rogues are be attempting to escape the police, but they have caught up, and are in the process of restraining them.

RON: Aha! See that’s what I thought when I first saw it! But look closer. Observe how the policeman on the right is tearing at his trousers?

SPO: Well, tearing or restraining?

RON: Not convinced okay, go to the next [Article B].

Article B

RON: And again please, what do you see?

SPO: The time-honoured tradition of the Navy; a tattoo of fealty.

RON: Or two men admiring a third, naked man?

SPO: Perhaps, but how else would they do the process? Is not the sitting man there to comfort and console his friend during the painful process, and the kneeling man the one doing the tattooing?

RON: That is one way to see it yes. I can see you’ll need some convincing! [laughs]. Okay, the next please [Article C].

Article C

SPO: Well…

RON: Yes?

SPO: Well the trapeze artist on the right, whilst he was swinging, his uniform ripped, thus revealing his… his… The man on the left… Um, well the increased blood flow needed for the strenuous exercise-

RON: Of anal sex?

SPO: No! Let me finish! …Strenuous exercise combined with the centrifugal force of swinging on a trapeze, forced blood to his penis and gave him an erection. This drawing captures that exact moment, in its awkward glory. Perhaps Tuoko meant to show-

RON: He meant to show the simulation of anal sex between two men! The next one, look at it! Look at it! [Article D]

Article D

SPO: Mr. Ronald, please-

RON: Look at it! LOOK AT IT! He is licking a penis! He is kneading a scrotum! This is not about the Vietnam War!

SPO: Okay John, thank you fo-

RON: Every drawing is a caricature of a be-muscled homosexual!

SPO: John, that’s it we’re-

RON: An alpha male with a bulging penis!

SPO: John! Stop it! Stop it!

[Recording ends]

As you can see, a compelling argument, and a harrowing experience. We were left rattled, shaken by the fury and weight of Ronald’s evidence.

Time has passed, sensitive sensibilities have recovered. Whilst Ronald’s evidence was compelling, it was not absolutely persuasive. We took the time to investigate John Ronald and ascertain his intents in denouncing Tuoko’s art as simply homosexual pornography.

Lord of the Ring?

Investigative journalism for increased media transparency is something we here at SPOCSYM are passionate about. So with justice on our side, we began to shadow ‘Mr’ John Ronald and dig for his motives for discrediting Tom of Finland.

Peering through his letterbox and windows revealed little, apart from Ronald’s incredibly sedentary lifestyle: Sitting on a high stool in the kitchen, on a chaise lounge in the front room. Between 11pm and 8am he stayed on the first floor of his abode, presumably sitting on the ottomans, Bergeres, caquetoires and Zaisu that undoubtedly fill the expansive caverns of his house.

Incredibly sedentary lifestyle

Despite the usual ‘give up immediately’ attitude of the SPOCSYM staff, we continued, perhaps lured by the prospect of justice, perhaps by a desire to root through Ronald’s garbage. Either way, we unearthed a discarded manuscript of Ronald’s forthcoming novel, that brought to our attention some startling facts.

John Ronald, whilst essentially sessile, is certainly not idle. The tome-like manuscript numbers well over a hundred pages. Taking over four years for the SPOCSYM team to finish, we believe we can now confidently postulate the true meaning of Ronald’s denunciation of Tom of Finland’s alleged goals in his art.

The novel, with the early title of ‘The Magic Ring‘, is a clumsily hidden allegory for what Ronald believes are the trials of the modern homosexual male. The protagonists squabble and fight over a ‘magic ring’ that enslaves the bearer. Everything rests on the fate of this ring, the novel neatly touching on the dangers of relationships built solely on sex, and the inevitably of having to confront this subject, and the life changing outcomes.

The elegance of this epic is undeniable. However, consider this in the context of his assertion on Tuoko’s work? This is a man willing to pen close to 500,000 words on an allegory about anal sex? Could this be described as obsession? Could this colour his views on Tuoko Laaksonen’s oeuvre?

Tuoko's Oeuvre

Sandwiched in the middle

Tom of Finland has been a respected artist for over half a century now. Whether we remember Tuoko’s work as the ‘Uniformed Ambassador’ or as the giant penis loving, muscle obsessed caricature portrayed by John Ronald is a mystery that sadly only time can reveal.

We regret that his art, beautiful in its own rights, has been caught and sandwiched between the squabbling of art critics and army enthusiasts, ironically much like the criminals apprehended by the police in so many of Tuoko’s drawings.

We hope SPOCSYM has given you the facts to reach your own conclusions, and leave you with two final pieces of evidence, two quotes by the involved parties.

Tuoko Laaksonen: ‘I try to… depict the reality of what these men do, readdress the skewed image portrayed by the media‘.

John Roland [excerpt from ‘The Magic Ring‘]: ‘One Ring to rule them all, to the great weakening of its maker’s power, now he greatly desires to have it again‘.