Tom House: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles

Image of Tom House: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles
Release Date: 
March 7, 2016
Reviewed by: 

celebrates the still transgressive world of gay leathermen and Tom of Finland's place in Los Angeles’ architectural history.”

Located in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles at 1421 Laveta Terrace is Tom House (or the Tom of Finland House). “It is the place where the revolutionary homoerotic artist Tuoko Laaksonen (1920–1991) lived and worked for much of the last decade of his life.”

Tuoko Laaksonen (better known as Tom of Finland) created illustrations that captured the gay leatherman aesthetic. In the Foreword, Mayer Rus tells the story of how Tom House became a home for Tom of Finland and how Durk Dehner was “the man responsible for reclaiming Tom's legacy from the ghettos of illustration and pornography.”

As Mayer Rus explains in his accompanying essay, Tom House “is an extraordinary place, equal parts frat pad, utopian collective, art historical archive, sepulcher, community center, and den of iniquity.” Tom House: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles is a book that documents a landmark house within the gay community, the leather community, and Los Angeles history. The house provides a site for showcasing gay erotic art, a tourist trap for “gay culture vultures,” and the location for sex parties.

Rus recounts the circuitous route to establishing the Tom of Finland Foundation in this house in Echo Park. “By the time Tom returned to L.A. In late 1979, Dehner had pooled his resources with his current lover, his ex-lover, and his ex-lover's lover to purchase the house on Laverta Terrace. If that sounds like a set-up for a gay sitcom, the truth is not far off—the place proved to be the perfect backdrop for romantic round robins and gay fellowship.”

While the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage has begun the slow process of normalization for the gay community, Tom of Finland's stands outside this bourgeois normalcy. Even the house's domestic history shows how the living arrangements created an alternate erotic commune of sorts.

Martyn Thompson's photography is juxtaposed against Tom of Finland's preparatory drawings. The house itself is a gabled Craftsman repurposed with a “kaleidoscopic array [that] embodies the unapologetically phallocentric ethos that animates Tom House.”

Getting published by Rizzoli, the Criterion Collection of publishers represents a cultural, political, and erotic triumph for The Tom of Finland Foundation. Even within the gay community, BDSM (bondage, domination, and sado-masochism) remains controversial. Los Angeles writer John Rechy has equated those practicing BDSM to be self-hating gays, while others who practice BDSM have likened it to martial arts. Suffice to say the practice of gay BDSM remains an area for further exploration, investigation, and discussion. Rechy's comment may have a certain credence in the pre-Stonewall days, but Tom of Finland provides a spectacular riposte.

Tom of Finland's illustrations show men engaged in BDSM scenes: leatherclad, joyous, and promiscuous. It is utopian pornography, yet is simultaneously great art. His male bodies recall Michelangelo and the muscled sculptures of the Baroque, while his studs have faces reminiscent of twenties illustrator J. C. Leyendecker.

The preparatory drawings will be familiar to the images seen in Taschen's Tom of Finland: The Art of Pleasure. Tom House offers a glimpse of where Tom of Finland created his iconic art, from the bookshelves to the interior design. Several photographs survey the infamous sex dungeon. This is a book that celebrates the still transgressive world of gay leathermen and Tom of Finland's place in Los Angeles’ architectural history.