BETTY TOMPKINS: Women Words

Exhibition: June 29 – July 28, 2018
Opening: June 28, 6 – 8pm

Born in Washington D.C. in 1945, Tompkins is best known for her “Fuck Paintings”: monochrome, photorealist images of closely-cropped sexual acts and genitalia which she began in the late 1960s. Pornography is an inexhaustible treasure trove of reference material for those who desire to render the body, and Tompkins, following her graduation from Syracuse University, began to make the works from her first husband’s collection of dirty magazines. Though they were illegal to possess in America at the time, Tompkins clipped from the magazines the images which struck her as beautiful, rendering them verily with an airbrush to achieve a smooth, photorealistic surface. Many dozens of such works are stacked against the walls of her New York studio: erect penises in coitus with hairless vaginas (some with pierced clitorises); glossy, pink vulvas; and mouths with wet tongues curved around one another like roots sprouting from the bodies’ lascivious cores.

Though New York gallerists in the 1970s declined to show her paintings on the grounds of her being a woman, and many feminists of the era rejected her work as being just as exploitative as the pornography they also condemned, Tompkins has recently been reassessed as a pioneer of feminist art and has subsequently experienced a surge of attention in the past two decades. Concurrent with that recognition, in 2002, she embarked on a brand-new series titled “Women Words”. Sending out a request to her network to e-mail her lists of words used to describe women, Tompkins painted the terms (ranging from affectionate words like “babe” to objectifying classifiers such as “cock smoker”, “tease”, “feminazi” and “girl next door”) onto small canvases. Many of the backgrounds of the works riff on the 20th-century “boy’s club” art world she lived among; she imitates the squeegeed look of Richters and ejaculative Pollocks in her own paintings with a wry sense of humour. Originally setting out to make 1000 of the paintings, Tompkins quickly surpassed that mark and continues to ask people to contribute their own at her exhibitions or by e-mail (womenwords1000@gmail.com).

Betty Tompkins (b. 1945) is an artist living and working in New York, NY, and Pleasant Mount, PA. For the last forty years, Betty Tompkins has based her paintings on the tension of intimacy and representation of sexuality, rendering explicit scenes in monochromatic tones. Her radicalism in the late 60’s led to the unfortunate censoring of her work and later a spotlight on her role in the American and European art scene. Her large-scale, hyper realistic figure paintings are made from erotic photographs and built layer by layer, using two airbrush nozzles to apply black and white acrylic. Her work is not meant to arouse fantasy but to transpose light and shade, the effect of the process enveloping the scene in sfumato. Text and language play a large role in Tompkins work, often driving the subject matter and concept of the piece. Recent solo exhibitions include WOMEN Words, Phrases, and Stories, Flag Art Foundation, New York (2016); Real Ersatz, FUG, The Bruce High Quality Foundation, New York (2015); Art Basel Feature, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Basel, Switzerland (2014); Paintings & Works on Paper 1972-2013, Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach, FL (2014); Woman Words, Dinter Fine Art, Project Room #63, New York (2013); Fuck Paintings, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium (2012); New Work, Mitchell Algus Gallery, New York (2009). Tompkins’s work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including The Shell (LANDSCAPES, PORTRAITS & SHAPES), Almine Rech Gallery, Paris, France (2014); A Drawing Show, Matthew Marks Gallery, New York (2014); CORPUS, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland (2014); A Chromatic Loss, Bortolami Gallery, New York (2014); Sunset and Pussy, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (2013); Elles, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2011).