in New York, NY / United States
28.06.2024 - 09.08.2024 00:00
Betty Tompkins - Just a Pretty Face

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Gallery hours Tue – Sat 10 am – 6 pm

Exhibition Duration 28 June – 09 August 2024


392 Broadway
10013 New York, NY
United States


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