Betty Tompkins

United States 1945


Betty Tompkins
Betty Tompkins
United States
April 2, 2016
Alias of Jasmina Sevic, a researcher and author for Widewalls. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Science (Department for Journalism) in Belgrade in 2013.

Controversial feminist artist Betty Tompkins has explored the extreme edges of sexualized iconography over the past four decades. She began working on her Fuck Paintings — an ongoing series of large-scale photorealistic images of sex, including exposed genitalia, penetration, and masturbation — in 1969. Often dismissed as too explicit, her works have been censored and labeled as pornography over the years. However, highly sexualized imagery and language have since become omnipresent in mainstream culture, so Tompkins’ work finally began getting more attention than shame. In 2003, the American artist participated at the Lyon Biennale where she received highly positive acclaim for her portrayal. Since then, she has been recognized as one of the artists at the forefront of first generation feminist art.

Betty Tompkins has been recognized as one of the artists at the forefront of first generation feminist art

artist Betty Tompkins - ” Fuck Painting ” series, contact said people
Betty Tompkins – Fuck Painting #1, 1969, Centre Pompidou, Paris / Fuck Painting #31, 2009 / Fuck Painting #25, 2007

Fuck Paintings

Born in 1945, in Washington D.C. and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Betty Tompkins obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Syracuse University in New York. Upon graduation, she married her first husband, who was one of her teachers, and soon moved to NY. The very first Fuck Painting saw the light of the day in 1969. Using porn magazines as a source material, Tompkins depicted delicately explicit paintings of people engaged in a variety of sexual acts, ranging from activities done alone to acts with another person. The pieces were made using hundreds of layers of spray paint; the artist explored a variety of techniques to bring her artworks into being and exhibit her prolific skills as a painter. Tompkins has developed a unique body of work which included large-scale, monochrome compositions of closely cropped sexual scenes that she would become known for.

artist Betty Tompkins - Girl on Girl Painting #2, 2009 time years said way
Betty Tompkins – Fuck Painting #29, 2008 (Left) / Girl on Girl Painting #2, 2009 (Right)

The Radical Feminism and Controversy

Controversy is a term that distinguishes Betty Tompkins’ career in the art world. Her large body of work created in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with the rise of second-wave feminism. Although part of a generation of radical feminist artists, who were not afraid to speak up, Tompkins was cast aside by her fellow feminists who claimed that pornography is harmful because it dehumanizes women and encourages sexual violence. But in her practice, Tompkins produces photorealistic, monochromatic paintings of sex, representing male and female genitalia isolated, zoomed in and deprived of identity or any other context. Although her oeuvre is not as shocking as it was back in the day when Tompkins created her first work, her direct, raw and highly detailed pieces can stir controversy even today.

Betty Tompkins - ” Kiss Grid ” , 2005 (Left) - ” Blowjob Grid ” 2006 gallery New York time years said people way
Betty Tompkins – Kiss Grid #1, 2005 (Left) – Blowjob Grid #1, 2006 (Right)

From Censored to Celebrated

In 1973 – after Tompkins’ work was included in group shows at Warren Benedek Gallery and LoGuiduce Gallery, both in Soho – she was invited to participate in a show/auction in Paris, but her work was not let into the country. It was the first time that her paintings were labeled “obscene and unfit for public exhibition”. The show went on without her, and it took more than a year for Tompkins to recover her works from French authorities. In response to this ordeal, Betty continued to work but left the subject matter of the Fuck Paintings at bay until the beginning of the 2000s when she decided to go back to the theme. The turning point of Tompkins’ career happened in 2003 when she participated in the Lyon Biennale, receiving huge recognition for her work. Shortly after, Fuck Painting #1, created in 1969, was acquired by the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Additionally, she has gone on to exhibit on numerous occasions, often solo, to great acclaim, but her Fuck Paintings have never been exhibited in any of the US museums. “I guess the paintings are still considered as shocking now as when I did them”. Although much of her “no-sex” work can now be found in such collections as Islip Art Museum, East Islip, New York; Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio; and Paterson Museum, Paterson, New Jersey; only the Centre Pompidou owns her fuck painting or any of her sex works.

Betty Tompkins - Fuck Painting series at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, 2012, installation view
Betty Tompkins – Fuck Painting at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, 2012, installation view

WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories

In one of her latest series WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories, Tompkins created a suite of 1,000 small paintings of words used to describe women. For this project, the artist sent out emails soliciting phrases commonly used to describe women, first in 2002 and then again in 2013. As a result, the concept of female identity has been literally fractured into a thousand pieces, which range in size from 4 by 4 inches to 36 by 16 inches and produce loose configurations of meaning among words. Ranging from “Venus”, “Divine”, and “Baberaham Lincoln” to “Piece of Ass”, and “The Only Thing That Would Make Her More Beautiful Is My Dick in Her Mouth”, the paintings reveal that women are often still viewed as an instrument of sexual pleasure.

Betty Tompkins - WOMEN Words, Phrases, and Stories, installation view, gallery
Betty Tompkins – WOMEN Words, Phrases, and Stories, installation view, courtesy of the FLAG Art Foundation, photo by Genevieve Hanson, New York

Between Intimacy and Sexuality

While it may be taken for granted in the beginning of the 21st century that women artists make transgressive and explicit sexual imagery, back in 1960 when even owning pornography was embarrassing, Tompkins thrived amidst the controversy. She was one of the artists at the forefront of the era’s feminist movement that have altered contemporary life and changed the world. Although her Fuck Paintings had met with so much rejection over the course of almost three decades, she has remained faithful to her peculiar and unequivocal visions. Aged 70, she continues to create paintings based on the tension of intimacy and representation of sexuality.

Betty Tompkins lives and works in New York and Mt. Pleasant, PA USA.

Featured image: Betty Tompkins – portrait, photo credits – Purple

All images copyright Betty Tompkins

YearExhibition TitleMuseum/GallerySolo/Group
2017Betty TompkinsP·P·O·W, New York, NY USASolo
2016WOMEN Words Phrases and StoriesThe Flag Art Foundation, New York, NY, USASolo
2016Betty TompkinsGavlak Gallery, Los Angeles, CA USASolo
2016The project roomMarlborough Gallery, New York, NY USASolo
2016Black Sheep FeminismDallas Contemporary, Dallas, TX USAGroup
2015Real ErsatzBHQFU, New York, NY USASolo
2015A Sight For Sore Eyes, Artsy at Art Brussels, (with Lucas Jardin)Brussels, BelgiumGroup
2015Word by WordLuxembourg & Dayan, London, UKGroup
2015Viewer Discretion…Children of BatailleStux Haller Gallery, New York, NY, USAGroup
2015Verganza (I don’t want to be friends), organized by Gea PolityMilan, ItalyGroup
2015LustHVCCA, Peeksil, New York, NY, USAGroup
2015Fertility, presented by Jane Kim33 Orchard, New York, NY USAGroup
2015The Shell (Landscapes, Portaits & Shapes) a show by Eric TroncyAlmine Rech Gallery, Paris, FranceGroup
2015Eureka! curated by Kendell GeersGalerist, New York, NY, USAGroup
2014Art Basel FeatureGalerie Rodolphe Janssen, BaselSolo
2014Paintings & Works On Paper 1972-2013Sarah Gavlak Gallery, Palm BeachSolo
2014Rear Window TreatmentLouis B. James, New York, NY USAGroup
2014A Drawing ShowMatthew Marks Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2014CORPUSZacheta National Gallery, Warsaw, PolandGroup
2014A Chromatic LossBortolami, New York, NY, USAGroup
2014Selections from the SaraH and Matchelle Vance Waddel CollectionArt Academy of Cincinatti, Cincinatti, OH USAGroup
2013Betty Tompkins & DadamainoHome Alone 2, New York CitySolo
2013Woman WordsDinter Fine Art Online, New York CitySolo
2013IndependentsV1 Gallery, Copenhagen, DenmarkGroup
2013Sunsets and PussyMarianne Boesky Gallery, Nex York, NY USAGroup
2013Skin Trade, an in-depth look at the surface of thingsP.P.O.W Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2013DSM-VFarley Post Office, New York, NY, USAGroup
2013A few of my favorite thingsCB ! Gallery, Los Angeles, CA USAGroup
2013Temporary Autonomous Zone, 2 Erogenous ZoneGalerie im Körnerpark & Pony Royal, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2013Betty Tompkins and DadamainoHome Alone 2 Gallery, New York, NY, USAGroup
2013SexMoney and Power, Maison Particulière, Brussels, BelgiumGroup
2012Fuck PaintingsGalerie Rodolphe Janssen, BrusselsSolo
2012Newtopia, Special guest of Kendell GeersKazerne Dossin Memorial, Mechelen, BelgiumGroup
2012In the PinkJoe Sheftel Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2012Screw youSusan Inglett Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2012Character AnalysisJoe Sheftel Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2011Sex WorksGalerie Andrea Caratsch, ZurichSolo
2011GrisailleLuxembourg & Dayan, New York, NY USAGroup
2011Narrative to the Perverse IIJancar Gallery, Los Angeles, CA USAGroup
2011Invitation to the Voyage – Charles BaudelaireAlgus Greenspon, New York, NY USAGroup
2011No government No cry, a project by Kendell GeersCIAP Actuele Kunst, Hasselt, BelgiumGroup
2010Lust and Vice : The Seven Deadly Sins From Durer to NaumannKunst museum Bern and Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, SwitzerlandGroup
2010Visible VaginaFrancis Naumann Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2010Consider The OysterJames graham & Sons, New York, NY USAGroup
2009New WorkMitchell Algus Gallery, New YorkSolo
2009elles@centrepompidouCentre Pompidou, Musée d’art moderne, Paris, FranceGroup
2009Naked! Size MattersPaul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY USAGroup
2009RevolverCOCO, Vienna, AustriaGroup
2009The Line Is A Lonely Hunter,Drawings In New JerseyNew Jersey, Basel, SwitzerlandGroup
2008Fuck Paintings and Drawings 1973-2007Lawrimore Projects, SeattleSolo
2008ImagesHead, Geneva, SwiterlandGroup
2008How To Cook A Wolf: Part 1Dinter Fine Art, New York, NY USAGroup
2008www.WomenHeadbones Gallery, Toronto, CanadaGroup
2007Sex WorksMitchell Algus Gallery, NYCSolo
2007Into PositionBaurnmarkt, Vienna, AustriaGroup
2007Le Plaisir au DessinMusee de Beaux Arts, Lyon, FranceGroup
2007Handsome Young DoctorCubitt Gallery, London, UKGroup
2006Fuck Paintings and DrawingsGalerie Andrea Caratsch, ZurichSolo
2006Exquisite Corpse-Cadavre ExquisMitchell Algus Gallery, New York, NY, USAGroup
2006Uncertain States of AmericaSerpentine Gallery, London, UK and travelingGroup
2005New Paintings and DrawingsMitchell Algus Gallery, NYCSolo
2005La Beauté de l’EnferGalerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, BelgiumGroup
2004[Untitled, Nudes]Printed Matter, New York, NY USAGroup
2004Nouvelles Acquisitions, Oeuvres ContemporainesCentre Pompidou, Musée National D’Art Moderne, Paris, FranceGroup
2003It Happened TomorrowBiennale de Lyon, Lyon, FranceGroup
2002Fuck Paintings 1969-74Mitchell Algus Gallery, NYCSolo
2000Egizio’s ProjectNew York, New York, NY USASolo