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P·P·O·W is pleased to present Just a Pretty Face, Betty Tompkins’ third solo exhibition with the gallery. Known for her unabashed portrayals of the female body and sexual desire, Tompkins has been shunned, censored, and celebrated in the five decades since she first began her iconic Fuck Paintings series. Beginning her career during a period in which pornographic imagery was contested by both ends of the American political spectrum, Tompkins found the ‘charge’ she was looking for in the radically explicit source imagery she continues to mine. Just a Pretty Face brings together new and rarely before seen works from 1990 to 2024 to highlight Tompkins’ decades-long practice of appropriating imagery created for male self-pleasure to reframe societal taboos.

Betty Tompkins - Just a Pretty Face - Exhibitions - PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Just a Pretty Face, 2019
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

A self-proclaimed “accidental dissident,” Tompkins has ceaselessly questioned the rules of representation of women’s bodies and what governs them. In her ongoing Insults & Laments series, 2018-2024, Tompkins unifies her critically acclaimed Women Words series with her signature airbrushed paintings. Affixing vinyl letters to the canvas’ surface, Tompkins airbrushes grayscale images of vulvas on top, peeling off the letters to reveal statements such as “JUST A PRETTY FACE" from personal stories of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. These cropped and zoomed in depictions of genitalia eliminate all traces of individual subjectivity from the original source images, thereby disrupting the viewer’s interaction with the depicted figures. Although initially employed out of frustration at the demeaning language encountered by women daily, Tompkins has embraced text as a critical means of responding to ongoing political and cultural debates about inequity, harassment, and violence.

Betty Tompkins - Just a Pretty Face - Exhibitions - PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Natural Resources, 2002
oil crayon on half tone paper
10 x 10 ins.
25.4 x 25.4 cm

Alongside this series, Just a Pretty Face features two distinct, yet interconnected bodies of historic works Tompkins created in response to the censorship she faced as a result of her early Fuck Paintings. In Defacements, a series of works on paper from 1992-2003, Tompkins sourced pages from Taschen books on softcore portraiture such as Wheels and Curves: Erotic Photographs of the Twenties, recontextualizing the erotic and humorous poses of the figures within her own idyllic landscapes. Made during twelve summers teaching landscape painting at a residency in New Hampshire, this is a crucial bridge between her early work and her ongoing Apologia and Women Words series, which pair pages from art historical textbooks with descriptions of sexual discrimination, intimidation, and violence towards women. Between 1990 and 2000, concurrent with her Defacements, Tompkins created her Tool Series, repurposing domestic objects and agricultural equipment ranging from frying pans to circular saws. In these works, Tompkins utilized similar imagery of nude female bodies set against observed landscapes, each carefully rendered on readymade tools. These intimately scaled works not only alter the spatial relationship between viewer and image, but also challenge the traditional reading of figures devised for male viewership.

Betty Tompkins - Just a Pretty Face - Exhibitions - PPOW

Betty Tompkins
The Girly Show, 2000
acrylic on circular saw
22 ins. diameter
55.9 cm

Tompkins continues to leave an indelible mark on contemporary art discourse through her bold reimagination of imagery and steadfast dedication to challenging societal norms. Although created over the course of more than three decades, the works in Just a Pretty Face are united by “Tompkins’ will to transform or reclaim forces that seek to silence her.”[1]

Betty Tompkins (b. 1945, Washington DC) lives and works in New York, NY, and Wayne County, PA. Her works can be found in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Centre Pompidou, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris, France; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY; and the Shelly & Donald Rubin Foundation, New York, NY; among others. She has presented recent solo exhibitions at P·P·O·W, New York, NY; GAVLAK, Los Angeles, CA; Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, Belgium; J Hammond Projects, London, UK; The Flag Art Foundation, New York, NY; and Ribordy Contemporary, Geneva, Switzerland. Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including Lacan, the Exhibition: When Art Meets Psychoanalysis, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz, France; It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According To Hannah Gadsby, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Femme Fatale: Gaze-Power-Gender, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; Half the Picture: A Feminist Look at the Collection, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Black Sheep Feminism: The Art of Sexual Politics, Dallas Contemporary, Dallas, Texas; and Elles, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; among others. In 2021, MO.CO. Montpellier Contemporain presented Betty Tompkins: Raw Material, a revelatory survey exhibition accompanied by a monograph with specially commissioned texts by Nicolas Bourriaud, Alison M. Gingeras and Géraldine Gourbe, as well as a conversation with Tompkins.

[1] Alison M. Gingeras, “Don’t Fuck With Betty Tompkins,” in Betty Tompkins: Raw Material (Paris: Montpellier Contemporain, 2021), 23.

Exhibited Works

Exhibited Works Thumbnails
Betty Tompkins
Who Will Ever Love You With a Face Like That, 2024
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Who Will Ever Love You With a Face Like That, 2024
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
If I Make..., 2023
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
If I Make..., 2023
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Little Girl..., 2020
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Little Girl..., 2020
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Bathing Beauty, 1997-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Bathing Beauty, 1997-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Upsy Daisy, 1999-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 14 ins.
21.6 x 35.6 cm

Betty Tompkins
Upsy Daisy, 1999-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 14 ins.
21.6 x 35.6 cm

Betty Tompkins
Hood Ornament, 1999
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Hood Ornament, 1999
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Fanny, 2000
acrylic on stainless steel with cast iron handle
5 1/4 x 5 1/2 ins.
13.3 x 14 cm

Betty Tompkins
Fanny, 2000
acrylic on stainless steel with cast iron handle
5 1/4 x 5 1/2 ins.
13.3 x 14 cm

Betty Tompkins
Veiled Illusions, 2000
acrylic on circular saw
8 ins. diameter
20.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Veiled Illusions, 2000
acrylic on circular saw
8 ins. diameter
20.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Piece of Cake, 1999
acrylic on cake knife
10 x 3 1/4 ins.
25.4 x 8.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Piece of Cake, 1999
acrylic on cake knife
10 x 3 1/4 ins.
25.4 x 8.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Who Will Ever Love You With a Face Like That, 2024
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Who Will Ever Love You With a Face Like That, 2024
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
If I Make..., 2023
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
If I Make..., 2023
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Little Girl..., 2020
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Little Girl..., 2020
acrylic on canvas
24 x 24 ins.
61 x 61 cm

Betty Tompkins
Bathing Beauty, 1997-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Bathing Beauty, 1997-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Upsy Daisy, 1999-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 14 ins.
21.6 x 35.6 cm

Betty Tompkins
Upsy Daisy, 1999-2001
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 14 ins.
21.6 x 35.6 cm

Betty Tompkins
Hood Ornament, 1999
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Hood Ornament, 1999
oil crayon on half tone paper
8 1/2 x 7 ins.
21.6 x 17.8 cm

Betty Tompkins
Fanny, 2000
acrylic on stainless steel with cast iron handle
5 1/4 x 5 1/2 ins.
13.3 x 14 cm

Betty Tompkins
Fanny, 2000
acrylic on stainless steel with cast iron handle
5 1/4 x 5 1/2 ins.
13.3 x 14 cm

Betty Tompkins
Veiled Illusions, 2000
acrylic on circular saw
8 ins. diameter
20.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Veiled Illusions, 2000
acrylic on circular saw
8 ins. diameter
20.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Piece of Cake, 1999
acrylic on cake knife
10 x 3 1/4 ins.
25.4 x 8.3 cm

Betty Tompkins
Piece of Cake, 1999
acrylic on cake knife
10 x 3 1/4 ins.
25.4 x 8.3 cm