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10 Women Who Found Freedom in Their Art

Betty Tompkins Likes to “Get in Trouble”

“The only way you'll make it in New York is on your back.” This was the demoralizing response Betty Tompkins received from a college professor after she told him she was moving to the Big Apple to become an artist. Instead of sinking into her shell, Tompkins set out to prove him wrong. Her explicitly raunchy "Fuck Paintings" from the late 1960s and early '70s brought conversations around sex—and women’s agency—into the open. Though the works were flagged by French customs officials in 1969 and subsequently denied display, the first of the series, Fuck Painting. (Joined Forms/Grid), 1973, is now held in the esteemed collection of the Centre Pompidou. As Tompkins told Martha Wilson in an interview for CULTURED, “Thank god.”

Erin M. Riley’s Tapestries Confront the Anxieties of Womanhood

Last year, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut revisited its 1971 exhibition of all-women artists—the first of its kind in the U.S.—putting a contemporary spin on the seminal exhibition. Among the artists included in “52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone” was maverick Erin M. Riley. As a fiber artist, Riley weaves her worries into tapestries, working through her trauma one stitch at a time. The Massachusetts-born artist’s anxiety-filled works from the Covid-era illuminate her struggles with dermatillomania—a skin-picking disorder—and catalog her search for personal identity in a perilous moment for American women.

Martha Wilson Has "Fun Being an Old Lady"

“Artists work with what they have,” Martha Wilson told CULTURED in 2020, and at the time of the interview, the artist was (and still is) unabashed about her acceptance of aging as a woman. Wilson’s recent work unpacks the countless taboos surrounding this journey using none other than the artist’s own body as the focal material. In New wrinkles on the subject, a self-portrait from 2014, dark lines of makeup pronounce Wilson’s facial markings, reminding us how rarely women bear an unconcealed face—without inhibition—to the world. 

Jessica Stoller’s Porcelain Displays of Excess Critique Hyper-Femininity

A pierced purple porcelain nipple, bearing a silver hoop fashioned in the shape of a bow. A female skeleton milking a sagging breast carrying a man’s head in a picnic basket. Feasts of food and flowers littered with maggots, snails, and armless hands. These sinister, often simply strange, sculptures—all hand-built out of porcelain—are Jessica Stoller’s wry way of critiquing female gender norms. As the artist told CULTURED, “in my tableaux, the female body oozes together with nature, change, life, and death in resplendent complexity.”