Betty Tompkins' Raw Material at MO.CO. Montpellier was a revelatory survey spanning the formidable figurative painter's career from the 1960s to present. Known for her unabashed portrayals of the female body and sexual desire, Tompkins has been shunned, seized, censored and celebrated in the five decades since she first began her iconic Fuck Paintings series. Since then, she has ceaselessly questioned the rules of representation of women's bodies and what governs them.
Tompkins is known first and foremost for her large-format Fuck Paintings, a series of canvases that she began in 1969, whose representation of penetrative sex was drawn from pornographic photos. The series has gained renown for having been subjected to censorship numerous times.
The artist uses a cold and restrained palette of black, white and grey to paint images taken from pornographic sources in series including the Fuck Paintings, Cunt, and Pussy Paintings. Stylistically close to Photorealism, the cropped and blurred images are created with a spray gun on coloured, pastel background. In other series, the artist superposes snippets and quotations of misogynistic language on to the images.
Even though her paintings, due to their explicit nature, have been rarely exhibited, Betty Tompkins’ work has nevertheless influenced later generations of artists.
The exhibition Betty Tompkins: Raw Material is accompanied by a publication with specially commissioned texts by Nicolas Bourriaud, Alison M. Gingeras and Géraldine Gourbe, as well as a conversation with the artist.
"Looking at the Fuck Paintings today offers us a black box, the intangible memory of a process of invisibilization, which was motivated at the time, for diametrically opposed reasons, by conservative morals and feminist opprobrium. In both instances, these prejudices prompted harsh social and aesthetic sanctions against the artists involved. The “perverse” aspect of Tompkins’ paintings shattered the entire historical and cultural construct of implicit and explicit censorship, and we are now witnessing this legacy today."
Géraldine Gourbe, "Fuck Paintings: Radical Passivity, Visual Pleasure, and Queerness," Exhibition Catalogue Essay