It is a story about porn, dicks, cunts, pussies and fucking. But mainly it is a story about an artist who never gave up.
American artist Betty Tompkins started making her ‘Fuck Paintings’ 50 years ago inspired by her husband’s porn collection. At the time the artworld took no notice and her fellow feminists dismissed her work as pornography pandering to the male gaze.
She simply carried on painting.
In 2003, one of her works was acquired by the Centre Pompidou, starting a slow but unstoppable interest in her paintings.
She is currently enjoying rapturous acclaim for her first ever UK show at the J Hammond Projects in London.
In this show Tompkins expertly turns explicit porn scenes into compositions with an abstract element and give them a dreamlike, ghostly quality.
The words she has chosen to scrawl across some of her canvases (in slightly wonky letters as if written by a mischievous child) are incredibly powerful:
‘Who will ever love you if you look like this?’
‘I think your intelligence has got in the way of your ability to be intimate’
It is no surprise that her work is enjoying a revival following the #MeToo earthquake. it is undoubtedly a clever critique of our attitudes towards women, their bodies and sexuality in general. It comes across as defiant, funny and almost tender, while avoiding being preachy and tawdry.
Jennie Hammond who organised and curated Tompkins' first UK show with her husband Justin says:
'We were amazed to learn that Betty had never had a solo exhibition in the UK, so we just HAD to do it. We visited Betty in her NY studio to pick out some paintings. It was important for us to showcase the depth of Betty's output by exhibiting new text pieces alongside work spanning the past decade.
It was a real pleasure to get up close to the paintings, they can appear much more abstract in the flesh. They're fantastic, but we also fell in love with Betty's story. To persevere when your work is universally rejected, when everyone is telling you it ain't gonna happen, is truly inspiring.'
It is a story where the little girl does not grow up to marry a prince.
Instead, she chooses to write obscenities on the walls, she says fuck you to the world, and then she burns down the palace.
It is a story with a happy ending.
'Fuck Paintings, Etc', J Hammond Projects. 1 March - 13 April 2019. London