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Betty Tompkins

1945 | Washington D.C., United States
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— Rodolphe Janssen

American Painter.

The story of Betty Tompkins is one of the prime examples of the exclusion and repression of female artists in contemporary history. In New York between 1969 and 1975, she realised a series of large format photorealistic paintings in black and white entitled Fuck Paintings. Smuggled and brought back from Thailand by her husband, these heterosexual, pornographic scenes were created from close up images of intercourse. Invited by the auctioneer Guy Loudmer to show her work in Paris in 1973, she watched as her works were immediately seized by customs officers, an act of censorship that led to a long legal battle and the disappearance of the paintings until 2002, when they were finally shown by the dealer Mitchell Algus in New York, then at the Lyon Biennial in 2003 in dialogue with the work of Steven Parrino. With the exception of the Centre Pompidou, which purchased one of her censored paintings, the work of B. Tompkins, rediscovered by a younger generation of artists such as Trisha Donnelly and critics such as Bob Nickas, continues to be rejected by international and historical institutions and collections of hyperrealism. It is nevertheless undeniable that the sexual act, in all of its rawness, is one of the main subjects of hyperrealism, as are shiny surfaces, animals, sublimated landscapes, close ups of films and televisions, and all that lends itself to a reformulation of the notions of interiority and exteriority.

Both Gerhard Richter and Richard Artschwager (The Fucking Paintings) also employed pornographic imagery that were hidden from mass culture and subject to censorship, and yet neither were really excluded from the international scene. The only woman in a movement dominated by male figures, B. Tompkins was able to take advantage of this isolation and more recently has produced a series of sexual representations (drawings and paintings) afflicted and obstructed by words of sex and the forbidden. Although her work, which lies at the intersection of conceptual art, photorealism and engaged art, is strongly associated with feminist artistic movements, it nevertheless maintains a unique place of resistance, and the large pornographic surfaces that demand a true distance strike even harder today with their visual impact, radicality, critical and thought-provoking power.

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Stéphanie Moisdon

Translated from French by Katia Porro.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Sex Painting #4, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Collage #4, 1972, mixed media on paper, 12.7 x 10.8 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Fuck painting #59, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 152.4 x 147.3 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Joined Forms / Grid #1 July 26, 1973, pencil on paper, 35.6 x 27.9 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Masturbation grid #9, 2017, pencil and color pencil on paper, 43.2 x 35.6 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Pussy Painting #4, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 40.6 x 40.6 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Pussy painting #22, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 40.6 x 40.6 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

Betty  Tompkins — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Tompkins, Women Words (Anon #18), 2017, acrylic on book page, 24.8 x 19.1 cm, © Betty Tompkins / Rodolphe Janssen

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