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Provocative Sexual Art of Betty Tompkins Arrives in Brussels

  • Betty Tompkins in her Studio, 2017
January 5, 2018
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via this email: andreja.velimirovic@widewalls.ch

It has recently been announced that rodolphe janssen gallery will host its third solo exhibition of Betty Tompkins‘ works at the start of this year.

The now 72-year-old Betty Tompkins started making her famous and provocative Fuck Paintings in 1969. Extremely misunderstood back then, these works were usually large-scale close-up photorealistic presentations of vaginal penetration rendered from so-called “outlawed” pornographic images.

Over the years, Tompkins’ work did not evolve too much in terms of content. However, she was and still is quite fond of artistic experimentation and, as a result, her work was introduced to various compositional strategies and techniques over the years.

Pussy grid #1, 2017, Pencil on paper, 43.2 x 35.6 cm
Betty Tompkins – Pussy grid #1, 2017, Pencil on paper, 43.2 x 35.6 cm

Provocative Art

Since the late 1960’s, Betty Tompkins has been painting her Fuck, Cunt or Kiss Paintings. Although similar in their provocative natures, these series of works provided the artist with an opportunity to study different mediums and alternative techniques like airbrush, stamps, graphite powder and fingerprints.

Compositionally speaking, Tompkins crops the images in such a fashion that only the explicit sexual parts are presented, without other body parts being displayed.

Its easy to take one look at the paintings Betty made over the course of her career and simply brand them as pornographic – however, Tompkins has a different point of view when it comes to her art:

I see something intimate made monumental – we see a visual we don’t usually see in a medium we don’t expect.

Besides the eminent feminist flavor of her work, Tompkins’ initial intention was to create a platform upon which abstract and sexual content could coexist in a way that does not see them compromising each other’s creative merit.

Cunt painting #20, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 147.3 x 152.4 cm
Betty Tompkins – Cunt painting #20, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 147.3 x 152.4 cm

A Late Rise to Deserved Stardom

Saying that Betty Tompkins had a “bumpy road” on her way to artistic acceptance would be an understatement. Besides constantly facing dismissals from gallerists, the artist also had to endure massive pressures from anti-pornography feminist wings.

She was also denied entrance to France in 1973 when two of her works were held and confiscated by French customs for censorship reasons.

Because of these events and obstacles, Tompkins’ paintings were known only to a handful of people until the early 2000s.

However, from that point on, Betty’s work has been celebrated by the public, which was definitely long overdue. Her art was featured in countless exhibitions since then, including a successful presentation at the 2003 Lyon Biennale.

Cunt grid #24, 2017, Pencil and color pencil on paper, 43.2 x 35.6 cm
Betty Tompkins – Cunt grid #24, 2017, Pencil and color pencil on paper, 43.2 x 35.6 cm

Betty Tompkins Art Exhibition at rodolphe janssen

Betty Tompkins began painting her large scale provocative paintings in 1969 and it’s fascinating to see how polarizing the statuses of these works were back than and now. Massively overlooked by the critics and art market due to its subject matter back in the day, Betty’s paintings are now regarded as valuable works of art that can stand shoulder to shoulder with anything contemporary art can throw at it.

The solo exhibition of Betty Tompkins’ sexual works at rodolphe janssen in Brussels will be open to the public between the 18th of January and the 17th of March 2018.

Featured image: Betty Tompkins in her Studio, 2017. All images courtesy of the artist and rodolphe janssen, Brussels.