HomePage Artists

b. 1945, USA

Betty Tompkins Biography

In small- and large-scale paintings known for their hyper-realistic rendering and explicit scenes, American artist Betty Tompkins presents unabashed portrayals of female sexuality. Text and language also feature largely in her oeuvre, seeking to confront the history of misogyny in the art world and the ongoing objectification of women.

Read More

Betty Tompkins first began to consider sex as the subject of her paintings in the late 1960s while going through her then-husband's collection of pornographic images at a time when it was illegal to own them in the United States. After cropping images that she found compelling, the artist started recreating them. Between 1969 and 1974, a series of eight 'Fuck Paintings' were created using an airbrush, building upon layers of black and white acrylic paint to depict close-up shots of penetration. Monochromatic and slightly out of focus, Tompkin's paintings are evocative of formal studies of abstraction.

Although Tompkins was able to exhibit her early paintings in the 1970s, she would remain in relative obscurity for decades. In the 1970s in New York, galleries refused to show Betty Tompkins' artworks, while many second-wave feminists denounced the works for what they perceived as being exploitative of women. The 'Fuck Paintings' also suffered from censorship; in 1973, two were seized by the French Customs Office on their way to France for an exhibition. It took a year before the work was returned to the artist.

Departing from her 'Fuck Paintings', Tompkins later began to work closely with text. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she drew phrases from legal United States documents and painted their enlarged reproductions in acrylic or pencil on a grid composed of the word 'LAW'. The Bill of Rights (as depicted in Bill of Rights, 1978) and the Constitution (as depicted in We the People..., 1983) are frequent sources. Tompkins was inspired to create these works by a research study that suggested that many American high school students were unfamiliar with such fundamental articles.

Tompkins garnered wider attention in 2002 when a solo exhibition at Mitchell Algus Gallery in New York brought her 'Fuck Paintings' together for the first time in public. Fuck Painting #1 (1969) was purchased by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the series was later shown at the Lyon Contemporary Art Biennale in 2003. During this time Tompkin's oeuvre was reconsidered in the context of feminist art, which led to her inclusion in the group exhibition Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics at Dallas Contemporary in 2016.

Since the early 2000s, Tompkins has revisited the subject matter of sex, highlighting it in terms of violence against women. In 2002, she initiated 'Women Words', which asked people to send in emails showcasing language they heard in relation to women. The artist then made 1,000 paintings using these transcriptions, ranging from loving to demeaning, and another 1,000 in 2013 with further stories and anecdotes from women. A related series, 'Apologia' (2018), quoted parts of apologia or denials issued by media figures accused of sexual harassment in recent years, such as R. Kelly or Chuck Close.

In the 'Women Words' and 'Apologia' paintings, the background images are reproductions of well-known artworks, often found in art history textbooks. 'Women Words' feature masterpieces by male artists such as Titian's Venus and Adonis (1550s) (reproduced in Women Words [Titian #5], 2018) and Edouard Manet's The Surprised Nymph (1861) (reproduced in Women Words [Manet #2], 2018). In these works, female figures are covered in pink text, bringing attention to the way the female body has been objectified under the male gaze in Western art history. The reverse takes place in the 'Apologia', which borrow mostly female artists' works, such as Gentileschi's Lot and his Daughters (1635–1638) (Apologia [Artemisia Gentileschi #2], 2018) and Suzanne Valadon's Adam and Eve (1901) (Apologia [Suzanne Valadon #1], 2018), and blocks out male figures.

'Women Words' and 'Apologia' were exhibited together at P.P.O.W, New York, in 2018, while the 'Women Words' appeared in Tompkins' solo presentation Women Words, Phrases, and Stories at The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, in 2016.

Tompkins lives and works in New York.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2019

George Condo, Untitled (1985). Oil on canvas. 30 x 25 cm, 38 x 33 cm (incl frame). Courtesy the artist and Simon Lee Gallery.

Betty Tompkins Featured Artworks

View All (92)
What does... by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsWhat does..., 2018Acrylic on canvas
61 x 61 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Apologia (Caravaggio #5) by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsApologia (Caravaggio #5), 2018Acrylic on book page
30.5 x 22.2 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Women Words (Anon #8) by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsWomen Words (Anon #8), 2017Acrylic on book page
21.6 x 17.8 cm
rodolphe janssen Contact Gallery
Women Words (Weegee #8) by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsWomen Words (Weegee #8), 2017Acrylic on book page
29.2 x 22.9 cm
rodolphe janssen Contact Gallery
Women Words (Raphael #2) by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsWomen Words (Raphael #2), 2018Acrylic on book page
26.4 x 23.1 cm
rodolphe janssen Contact Gallery
Sex Painting #5 by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsSex Painting #5, 2016Acrylic on canvas
111.8 x 195.6 cm
P·P·O·W Gallery Contact Gallery
Censored Painting #2 (Paris 1973 - Instagram 2019) by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsCensored Painting #2 (Paris 1973 - Instagram 2019), 2019Acrylic on canvas
213.4 x 152.4 cm
P·P·O·W Gallery Contact Gallery
Sex Painting #4 by Betty Tompkins contemporary artwork
Betty TompkinsSex Painting #4, 2013Acrylic on canvas
213.4 x 152.4 cm
Almine Rech Contact Gallery

Betty Tompkins Current & Recent Exhibitions

View All (5)
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, WORDS at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong
Open Now
22 June–19 July 2020 Group Exhibition WORDS Simon Lee GalleryOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, JUST FOR YOU : works on paper at rodolphe janssen, Brussels
Closed
13–31 May 2020 Group Exhibition JUST FOR YOU : works on paper rodolphe janssenBrussels
Contemporary art exhibition, Betty Tompkins, Will She Ever Shut Up? at P·P·O·W Gallery, New York
Closed
15 November–22 December 2018 Betty Tompkins Will She Ever Shut Up? P·P·O·W GalleryNew York

Betty Tompkins Represented By

Betty Tompkins In Ocula Magazine

EXPO Chicago Sets the Scene for 2020 Ocula Report EXPO Chicago Sets the Scene for 2020 By Stephanie Bailey, Chicago

'Where Will You Be in 1933?' was the official song of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair—a buoyant ditty written in 1932 to promote an exposition celebrating Chicago's centennial during the Great Depression. On 18 September 2019, it was performed at the Chicago Symphony Center as part of Samson Young: World Fair Music. The performance extended...

Fade out copy.
Read More

Betty Tompkins In Related Press

View All (5)
betty tompkins refuses to shut up or be censored Related Press betty tompkins refuses to shut up or be censored 12 April 2019, i-D

When 73 year old artist Betty Tompkins first joined Twitter several years ago, she made her avatar a picture of one of her paintings – a close up of genitalia, which she had created from old porn magazines. 'I hoped it was abstract enough, so that nobody would bother,' she explained during a visit at her sizable studio in Soho where she's lived...

Fade out copy.
Read More
Betty Tompkins at P.P.O.W. Related Press Betty Tompkins at P.P.O.W. 1 March 2019, Art in America

Pink text snaked in tight, meandering rows across human figures in the fifty-one recent paintings on paper in Betty Tompkins's second solo exhibition at P.P.O.W. One piece read, I WAS HUNTING FOR A JOB AND HE WAS HUNTING FOR ME. Another: SHUT UP SLUT! And another: I VEHEMENTLY DENY THESE ALLEGATIONS.

Fade out copy.
Read More
Betty Tompkins is the feminist artist you need to know Related Press Betty Tompkins is the feminist artist you need to know 20 November 2017, Elle

Known for a series of giant genitalia 'fuck paintings' (inspired by her husband's porno mags), the 72-year-old painter was once blacklisted and disregarded by radical feminists for her frank depiction of sexuality. As her new women words project - people send in words they use to describe women - makes its way across Europe, ELLE chats to the...

Fade out copy.
Read More
The Feminist Pioneers Making Provocative Art About Sex Related Press The Feminist Pioneers Making Provocative Art About Sex 31 October 2017, New York Times Style Magazine

This Summer in Los Angeles, a hairy, phallic-looking screw painted by Judith Bernstein extended across 180 feet of the exterior of Venus galleryin Boyle Heights. This month at MoMA PS1 in Queens, men and women stripped down to their underwear and rubbed each other with raw fish in a video by Carolee Schneemann. And in London, pink double-headed...

Fade out copy.
Read More

Be among the first to know when new artworks and exhibitions by Betty Tompkins are added to Ocula.

WeChat

Scan the QR Code via WeChat to follow Ocula's official account.

Scan to follow Ocula on WeChat.
;
iCal
GoogleYahooOutlook