Ness Lee Illustration Essay

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 60s 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).

The large scale photorealistic paintings of heterosexual intercourse which Betty Tompkins made between 1969 and 1974 were practically unknown when they were exhibited together for the first time in New York in 2002. Knowledge of Tompkins’ paintings immediately broadened the repertoire of first generation feminist-identified imagery. More significantly, their materialization made manifest an unacknowledged precursor to contemporary involvement with explicit sexual and transgressive imagery. Shown at the Lyon Biennale in 2003 beside Steve Parrino’s equally wayward abstractions, Betty Tompkins’ work garnered extraordinary attention. The first painting in the series – there are only eight extant early Fuck Paintings – was acquired for the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou/CNAC in Paris. (A satisfying postscript given that the paintings were detained by customs officials and ultimately denied entrance to France in 1973; a situation that was repeated two years ago when Tompkin’s work was sent to a gallery in Japan.).........
Although Betty Tompkins’ work is not included in LA MOCA’s current Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition, it figures prominently in Richard Meyer’s essay for the show’s catalog, Hard Targets: Male bodies, Feminist Art and the Force of Censorship in the 1970s. Meyer notes the essentialist bent of much early feminist-associated art and outlines the marginalization melded the phalocentric or coitus-concerned work of heterosexual women artists. Given the context, Tompkins’ straightforwardness and refusal to moralize is bracing. This, coupled with a ferociously deadpan humor, makes the artist’s images iconic. – Mitchell Algus

Way back in the 1960s at the exact same moment that Chuck Close was doing it with the faces, Betty Tompkins was making enormous black-and-white photorealist paintings — not of faces — but graphically pornographic images (...), ripped from straight male porn magazines (yes, kids — people used to masturbate to still black-and-white pics back in the day; not color videos like all of you); beautiful paintings of blow jobs, female fingerings, spread-eagle women doing anything you might imagine. I remember seeing images of this work back then and thinking, Wow! I like these way more than Chuck Close; this is someone really going for it in scale, technique, and holding nothing back about image. Sadly and undeservedly — and probably because it was too scary for a woman to be handling in-your-face imagery and scale like this — Tompkins was dealt out of a little history before storming back in about 15 years ago; she's one of the strongest artists out there now, always sparing nothing, using contemporary porn (all-shaved, of course, and bigger dicks, not sure why), in a show that is a must-see for the legions of curators who are always beating the bushes to "rediscover" other "older women artists." – Jerry Saltz

ART ATTACK is tonight--- a gala fundraiser supporting @buddiesto tonight!! I wish I could be there 😭💦 this piece, "Sinking Ship (Let's go Together) " will be available for auction alongside so many amazing artists!!! Performances, prizes and more--- to raise funds for @buddiesto and their inclusive programming, warmest home for queer creatives and youth ❤ thank you to @jvettiv for having me for such a moment ❤ event starts at 7pm and tickets are available for purchase! ✨Beach d i s c o ✨ party wowowowow

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