Arriving in JW Anderson’s Soho store and online today, the collaboration will celebrate the legendary queer artist’s boundary-pushing work. Here, Jonathan Anderson tells us the story behind the pieces
The Northern Irish designer Jonathan Anderson first discovered the work of Finnish draughtsman Touko Laaksonen – better known by professional moniker Tom of Finland – inside old copies of Physique Pictorial, the Bob Mizer-edited ‘beefcake’ magazine which was first published in the 1950s. Known for his erotic illustrations of hyper-masculine archetypes, from muscled cowboys and lumberjacks to shirtless sailors and leather-clad cops, Tom of Finland’s work is a proud and subversive depiction of gay sexuality, first disseminated to the world through sex shops and underground bookstores long before homosexuality was made legal in his home country in 1971. “For him to be coming up with an aesthetic like he did was way before his time,” Anderson tells AnOther. “I think he is someone who has really changed queer culture.”
Today, a new collaboration between Anderson’s eponymous label JW Anderson and Tom of Finland Foundation, the LA-based custodians of Laaksonen’s estate, launches on JWAnderson.com and at the label’s flagship store in London’s Soho. Centring on an image from a lesser-known Tom of Finland series The Saddle Thief – created in 1958, it features depictions of bondage and Western tropes – the pieces consist of a printed felt bag, visor, and a version of the brand’s signature ‘Penis Keyring’ in black leather with metal studs and rivets (“a keyring worthy of a trip to Folsom,” as the brand describes). “It pleases me greatly seeing gifted creators utilising Tom’s work, especially in such loving and lively expression,” says Durk Dehner, president of Tom of Finland Foundation, which the collaboration will raise funds to support. “Tom always wanted what he did to be uplifting, and in working with groundbreaking [designer] Jonathan Anderson, the artist’s spirit is joyfully carried on.”
“I collect many types of art, but drawings have always been a passion,” Anderson adds. “As a gay man and a designer, Tom of Finland has always fascinated me. To take his drawings and use them in my designs is a bit of a dream come true.” Here, as the collaboration launches, he tells AnOther the story behind the project, and why Tom of Finland’s work remains as resonant as ever.
AnOther Magazine: Please can you introduce this collaboration?
Jonathan Anderson: We started working on this months ago and it’s only for our JW Anderson Soho store and website. It is a collaboration and capsule collection with the Tom of Finland Foundation – there is a felt tote bag with leather handle, a visor and our ‘Penis Keyring’ in black leather with studs.
AM: What first sparked the idea of working with Tom of Finland Foundation?
JA: I have been a huge fan of Tom of Finland for many, many, many years. I feel he was one of the most important contemporary draughtsmen that has ever existed. I think he is someone who has really changed queer culture.
AM: When did you first encounter his work?
JA: I first came into contact with Tom’s work as I used to collect Physique Pictorial books. I became obsessed with Physique Pictorial, weirdly, after seeing it in an REM video. From that, I became very fascinated with photography and the idea of masculinity and queer culture and how it is represented in a cartoon or an illustration.
I felt like the juxtaposition of the fanzines in that period were so culturally important as well as really important for its period; it was incredibly bombastic and against what society wanted. I think that’s what’s been so important about Tom of Finland, if you look back to when he came out of the war, for him to be coming up with an aesthetic like he did was way before his time and it was risky for him personally.
AM: What do you think Tom of Finland represents?
JA: I think it represents defiance. To be able to express yourself no matter what period you’re in. To be able to do what you believe in.
AM: And why does his work still feel resonant today, a century since his birth?
JA: The reason it still resonates today is because it was before its time. What he was proposing had an element of timelessness. That’s why I think he is so appreciated in queer culture, contemporary art culture, and even in terms of literature.
AM: Both Tom’s work and your work as a designer explore gender and sexuality, albeit in different ways – why do you think Tom of Finland and JW Anderson have a good synergy?
JA: Because they are there to confront you with something. I think they are both cultural agitators.
AM: Do you own any of his drawings?
JA: Yes, I own three pieces.
AM: You’ve celebrated and collaborated with queer image-makers throughout your career – please can you tell us about your relationship with, and interest in, queer art?
JA: I think because I am queer myself, I feel that there is something in it that is very romantic. I think it’s being able to tell the history of queer culture. And queer culture has reflected over the years what has been happening politically and socially. The Aids epidemic. Oscar Wilde. It speaks about these moments and there is something romantic about celebrating and acknowledging queer culture.
The Tom of Finland collection is available from June 22, 2020 at JWAnderson.com and the JW Anderson London Soho Flagship. The Soho store will feature a Tom of Finland window installation including posable Tom of Finland action figures, also available for purchase.