Marylin Minter, Betty Tompkins and Rebecca Goyette at opening reception.

Marylin Minter, Betty Tompkins and Rebecca Goyette at opening reception.

I had the pleasure of meeting Betty and discovering her work through two group shows we were in this past year, Smile at Shin Gallery’s Project Space and Beyond Secretary at Mark Borghi Fine Arts, both curated by Jenny Mushkin Goldman.  The fact that I was unaware of this genius either proved to be a lapse in my art world intelligence or demonstrated something ubiquitous to Betty’s career.  Betty has been fighting a long-game battle against both censorship and society’s expectations.

We hold onto expectations in heteronormative culture that women are looking for love and relationships, withholding sex as a grand prize to a worthy suitor. Though the mating game is real, our relationship as women to the act of sexual intercourse is made “unreal.”  Society wants for intelligent women to shun sex.  The art world dubs works made about sex by women as feminist, whereas men can make work about sex without any specific labels.  There are assumptions also that feminist works are made from a position of anger, whereas erotic works can simply be about pleasure.  First-wave feminists were particularly pleasure averse, as they fought against the objectification of the female form.

Back in 1969, Betty Tompkins began painting from porn magazines, at the time she was married to her first husband, an older art professor with sophisticated libidinous tastes. Pornographic magazines were illegal and therefore harder to obtain, you had to be a connoisseur of sorts.  Betty turned her attention from her first dream to paint abstractly, focusing on formal concerns, to peeping the porn mags.  Though her process and concerns remain dead serious and formal as a painter, she entered into a career-long conversation to demand a path for a female-centric gaze upon the sex act itself, therefore the act of painting itself, the power dynamics of art, sex, and commodification.  Who gets to be the author, who gets to say it, who gets to spray it?  Who gets to sell it? Sex and/or Art?

Betty Tompkins Pussy Painting #16 2012 acrylic on canvas 16 x 16 in. (40.64 x 40.64 cm) Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Pussy Painting #16
2012
acrylic on canvas
16 x 16 in. (40.64 x 40.64 cm)
Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins hyper-realizes our sex, zooming in on pussies and dicks in action, enlivening the black and white magazine page with fleshy colors effervescing from the surface – explicit, blown-up, oscillating as if to say these pornographic pages contain life itself, a purely raw and visceral connection.

In Betty’s paintings there is no hierarchy between those engaging in intercourse, her focus is on penetration, a supercharged in-your-face intimacy.  We could be them, we are them and they are us.  Somehow, we as viewers have been penetrated, implicated and given a new lease on lust, desire and our own human nature.

Betty Tompkins Masturbation Grid Painting #1 2016 acrylic and pencil on paper 29.5 x 41.5 in. (74.9 x 105.4 cm) Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Masturbation Grid Painting #1
2016
acrylic and pencil on paper
29.5 x 41.5 in. (74.9 x 105.4 cm)
Courtesy PPOW

When I asked Betty what her connection really was to the erotic material she paints, she said that her goal is always to set up an arresting, disturbing image for the viewer to confront.  It is essential to her that her point of view is not the primary thing you see, hence clearing the air for people to have their own reaction to it. “When I start to talk about my relationship to the work, it cuts off viewers point of view.”  This is not a casual stance she takes.

The source material’s position in our society has changed drastically since Betty picked up her ex-husband’s porn mags and claimed them as her muse.  The porn industry has become a multi-million-dollar industry, with free porn all over the internet.  If I want to voyeur in on a sensual nude beach party or catch a gangbang, I can do that for free, anytime day or night.

I spoke with friends outside of the art world involved in witchcraft and sex worker communities, to delve deeper.  As witch Damiana Blunt aptly mentions, “my Instagram feed is full of idealized women’s bodies (I follow a lot of alt models) but no sexual action whatsoever. The extreme close-up nature of these paintings makes them more relatable, since none of my partners have ever looked like porn stars. Consequently, these images elicit a stronger sexual response for me than internet porn.”

There are infinite pros and cons to this proliferation of sex as industry.   Sex educator Britta Love adds, “Arguing from the philosophical about it is something we get to do as privileged white women – whereas economic reality is the basis of most sex work.  Sex work must be decriminalized so that it can evolve.  Sex as industry spans the gamut from coercion to empowerment, traumatic to healing, and everything in between. The sex industry has only just begun to appeal specifically to female consumers, whether through woman-produced and feminist porn or the small but growing number of women who hire escorts. Still, while cis men often feel entitled to access the pleasure, healing and connection available through the hiring of sex workers, most women do not.”

Women tend towards self help through other means, no means towards sexual healing available to us, shame connected, we are not supposed to love sex. Somehow society still deems women undesirable to be too interested in sex, too knowledgeable or communicative about their own desires.

Sex educator Britta Love fleshes this out, “When you really look into the anatomy of the vulva, you realize how deeply it is wired for pleasure.  People with vulvas who have this near-infinite erotic potential. Cis women demanding pleasure is still subversive, cis women telling cis male partners how to please them still threatens the fragile cis male ego – and the true powers of the multi-orgasmic vulva remains, for the most part, untapped.”

Kristen Sollée, author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, states, “Betty Tompkins’ work affirms the power of female erotic desire as she re-pictures parts that are too often the dominion of male creators, be they cameramen, directors, or fine artists. The energy that emanates from these juicy renderings is a direct result of the lingering aura of sex magic she has infused into her paintings. In this sense, you can even say that Tompkins’ skill in crafting shifts in perception through aesthetic acts positions her as a sorceress, and as a witch.”

Betty Tompkins Fuck Painting #46 2012 acrylic on canvas 84 x 60 (213.4 x 152.4 cm) Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Fuck Painting #46
2012
acrylic on canvas
84 x 60 (213.4 x 152.4 cm)
Courtesy PPOW

My experience of Betty Tompkins monumental paintings at the opening of Virgin at PPOW, was nothing short of sex magic.  In Fuck Painting #46, dick plunges deep into pussy in satisfying suction and thrust, three polished fingertips gently rubbing the clitoris, this magnified moment of ecstasy still-frames us in pursuit of female-centered orgasm.  Sex Painting #4 focused on the intimate act of toe-licking, an act requiring heightened desire, a kinky spirit and a submissive soul.  Fucking is easy, but not everyone deserves a good toe-lick.  Betty paints a range of vaginas from the wildly hairy to the ‘bride stripped bare,’ my personal favorite is Pussy Painting #16, featuring engorged labia lips and a bush full of silky curls unabashedly ready for action.  As a self-confessed phallocentric, Dick Painting #1 is pure sex magic.  For me and my own personal tastes, it is the most performative of the bunch, I found myself sizing that dick up, calculating my pleasure-filled plan of attack, full of teases, licks and rubs before I would hop on for a ride.

Betty Tompkins Dick Painting #1 2005-2013 acrylic on canvas 60 x 58 in. (152.4 x 147.3 cm) Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Dick Painting #1
2005-2013
acrylic on canvas
60 x 58 in. (152.4 x 147.3 cm)
Courtesy PPOW

I left Betty Tompkins’ opening at PPOW, aroused by the work.  I couldn’t help but go on that journey, it was a full-body, kinesthetic experience.  I asked Betty if she was aroused by the work, or if she had a sensual connection to certain imagery.  She replied, “No one can carry the initial impulse that started it, it’s work. In the end, it’s just a painting.”

I dashed home to post about my experience of the work on Instagram, craving more sex talk than Betty would provide.  I posted Fuck Painting #46, which got plenty of love and comments, many shared in my appreciation of its unapologetic eroticism.  Alas, this painting lasted for about one hour on my Instagram feed, before the cheese of social media censorship prevailed.  I got smart quick to the game of sharing Betty Tompkins work online. It was time to post Sex Painting #4, and so far, this depiction of toe-licking has prevailed.  It is still up, proving you need to be next-level to appreciate body-loving eroticism. You must have a pre-existing kink to grasp it.

Too kinky for the social-media police in Silicon(e) Valley…yum, yum, yum, little toes.

Betty Tompkins Sex Painting #4 2013 acrylic on canvas 84 x 60 (213.4 x 152.4 cm) Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins
Sex Painting #4
2013
acrylic on canvas
84 x 60 (213.4 x 152.4 cm)
Courtesy PPOW

Betty Tompkins, solo shows:

VIrgin
PPOW
535 West 22nd Street
March 30-May 13, 2017
http://www.ppowgallery.com

small 
Marlborough Contemporary Viewing Room
545 West 25th Street
April 19-May 20, 2017
http://www.marlboroughcontemporary.com/

Rebecca Goyette’s multidisciplinary work including video, ceramic sculpture, costumes and drawing reflects her complex view of sexuality, specifically the notion of fantasy from a feminist perspective. Goyette facilitates video scenarios that range from her extensive series of costumed Lobsta Pornos to “Ghost Bitch” Puritan historic reenactments and political sexploitation films such as her most recent Presidential scandal sendup, “Golden Showers: A Sex Hex,” in alliance with performers from artistic, witchcraft, and sex-positive feminist communities.

Goyette is represented by Freight and Volume Gallery.  She has exhibited internationally with solo shows at Jersey City Museum, Jersey City, NJ and Galerie X, Istanbul, Turkey and group shows/performances at Whitney Museum of Art, Queens Museum of Art, Weisman Museum of Art, MN, Winkleman Gallery, NYC, Slag Gallery, NYC and Gallery Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark.   Her work has been reviewed in Ms. Magazine, The Village Voice, Vice Magazine, Hyperallergic, Art F City, Huffington Post, NY Arts Magazine, amongst others.  Goyette is also a lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art and has taught/lectured at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper Union, Montclair University, Eyebeam and The New School.  This summer, Goyette will be exhibiting at the Museum of Sex, and at EVBG Projects, Berlin and making a new Lobsta Porn in Berlin and Barcelona.