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Los Angeles
Betty Tompkins
Gavlak LA
1034 North Highland Avenue , Los Angeles, CA 90038
July 16, 2016 - September 3, 2016

In 1,000 Text Paintings, Betty Tompkins Proves Words Are As Provocative As Porn
by Sola Agustsson

The media floods us with words and images aimed to categorize women. In Betty Tompkins’ new Los Angeles exhibition Sex Works / WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories, the artist best known for her Fuck Paintings repaints some of these common labels, creating a feminist space for her pieces to expose and confront everyday sexist language and representations.

On the walls of GAVLAK Gallery, 1,000 small textual paintings hang salon-style, presented as a cohesive installation. Their texts are derived from responses Tompkins got in an email thread asking users to generally describe women. The most common answers people gave were: “mother,” “slut,” “bitch,” and “cunt.” She used these one-word phrases and interlaced them among longer degrading messages like, “Will she ever shut up?” and “Put a bag over her head and fuck her for old glory.” Colorful and abstract, the paintings dialogue with one another, as a whole bombarding the viewer with a stream of words that range from hateful to empowering.

Installation views of WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories at GAVLAK Los Angeles. Courtesy of the artist and GAVLAK Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane


The texts are stenciled, drawn freehand, and collaged, derived from the aesthetics of the male gaze. The backgrounds of many of these tiny paintings mimic the styles of “old-boy painters” such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. In classical paintings, the female body has often been depicted as part of a landscape, or perhaps more flatteringly, as the muse for a man to create art. So it is fitting, if not subversive, that Tompkins repurposed male artists’ work as a backdrop for her own. In other text paintings, Tompkins incorporates close-ups of the female body, drawn from her own provocative oeuvre.

Installation views of Sex Works / WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories. Courtesy of the artist and GAVLAK Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane


WOMEN Words, Phrases, and Stories debuted at FLAG Art Foundation in New York City earlier this year, but in her first Los Angeles solo, they are uniquely exhibited together with several of Tompkins’ famous Fuck Paintings, the hyperrealistic pornographic works she began in 1969 and still makes today. Canvas has a way of distancing the feminine form from the flesh, especially with the sexually graphic imagery of the Fuck Paintings, which photorealistically transform close-ups of genitals into works of art. She said she came up with the idea for the series when looking through her husband’s porn stash. “I thought: If you take away all this uninteresting part, and just get down to the money shot, this is formally beautiful,” she said in a recent interview. The paintings veil a soft focus over the explicit images, abstracting and rendering the male-dominated gaze feminine. From afar, it takes a moment to realize what you’re looking at.

Tompkins did not initially receive much acclaim for these works, and it is only in the last two decades that they have been widely exhibited, praised, and acquired by museums. She has spoken about the male-dominated art world, inundated with established, older artists; when she first produced these works, no galleries would show her. Her paintings have been banned in both France and Japan, and even more recently, she had some of her works removed from Instagram and Twitter.

Installation view of Sex Works / WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories. Courtesy of the artist and GAVLAK Los Angeles.
Photo: Genevieve Hanson, Art Echo LLC


Sex Works / WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories pieces together Tompkins’ work dating from the early 1970s to 2015, including part of her Cunt Paintings series and some early works on paper. The body of work can be read like a chronology of the evolving feminist art movement, beginning with the more jolting pornographic artworks which were undeniably ahead of their time, to the recent series, a reflection on the representation of women in the internet age. Still, the works give much space for interpretation, presenting the art without comment. No press release or interview Tompkins has given fully explicate what the works “mean” precisely, which is refreshing in a contemporary art world that tends to over-contextualize. Instead, they are the context, an ever-daring visualization of the evolving structures mediating the representation of women. The explicit images and words—the former wrested back from the male gaze, the latter a testament to what no internet-using woman can escape—provoke viewers to confront them on their own terms, with guidance from one of the most dauntless feminist voices making artwork today.

Sola Agustsson

Sola Agustsson is a writer based in New York. She studied at UC Berkeley and has contributed to Bullett, Flaunt, The Huffington Post, Alternet, Artlog, Konch, and Whitewall Magazine.


(Image at top: Installation view of Sex Works / WOMEN Words, Phrases and Stories. Courtesy of the artist and GAVLAK Los Angeles. Photo credit: Genevieve Hanson, Art Echo LLC.)

Posted by Sola Agustsson on 7/25 | tags: painting fuck paintings pornography text feminism

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It may well be an interesting comment on the status of women in the arts, but I'm not sure that it only serves the purpose of bringing up another subject that is evasive, that of violence and pornography as it applies to everyday life. We seem to be heading more and more into a world where these two mix as entertainment. If the purpose of these works are to point this out the success of them may only lay within the bounderies of the gallery? The rest of the Western world uses women as a source of provocative entertainment. I beleive it may be a condition that is so ingrained in our view of women as to add more to the lexicon only belies it's ability to be effective. The real source of any of this is Capitalism itself. It's ability to deplete everything that comes along that is contradictory. I think the works are a start of a very interesting discussion even though these works have a long history

Group Exhibition
The Good Luck Gallery
945 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, CA 90012
July 9, 2016 - August 27, 2016

Charting Experience: Four Artists with Developmental Disabilities Map Singular Visions
by Sola Agustsson

The process of creating art always involves transmitting one’s singular sensory experiences into a discrete vision. The Los Angeles exhibition Mapping Fictions brings together four contemporary artists who organize information and experience through text and images, charting popular culture, physical space, and personal knowledge in painstakingly detailed work. Andreana Donahue and Tim Ortiz of Disparate Minds curated the exhibition, which is now on view at The Good Luck Gallery, a space dedicated to self-taught artists. Disparate Minds is an organization that follows progressive art studios, described as “studio environments where adults with developmental disabilities can pursue and maintain lives/careers as artists.” Each of the artists in Mapping Fictions is neurologically or developmentally atypical, and works at a different progressive art studio.

Joe Zaldivar, Street map of La Puente, California, 2015, Illustration marker, pen, and graphite on paper, 18 x 24 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and First Street Gallery, Claremont, CA


Joe Zaldivar’s work reimagines screenshots from Southern California found on Google Street View. The snapshots are ephemeral, but his drawings of maps, buildings, and interiors reference specific local businesses. The titles and representations of these places are straightforward, pinpointing the moment in time quite factually. Yet, the drawings are subtly, humorously laced with cultural references. Bart and Homer Simpson, for example, turn up in The Coffee Roaster, 13567 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, California, among other works.

Zaldivar’s YouTube channel has drawn over 2,000 followers, and lends insight into his particular vision. Recording directly from broadcast television, as well as VHS tapes he’s found at yard sales, Zaldivar pieces together seemingly isolated scenes. News segments, commercials, and movie clips from past and present blend together as white noise. But because he records them by hand, cam-style, the videos are a little shaky. It’s an idiosyncratic archive; inserting his presence into the documentation, Zaldivar hones in on recorded moments that are soon to be forgotten. His works highlight the markers of time, location, and pop culture as essential tools for processing information and charting our lives.

Daniel Green, The Sun, 2010, Mixed media on wood block, 6 x 16.5 x 1 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Creativity Explored, San Francisco, CA


Daniel Green similarly turns his gaze on daytime television. His Days of Our Lives series structures personal events with the scheduling of popular soap operas. He intersperses the hourly schedules with illustrations of characters, logos, and personal commentary onto his mixed media on wood pieces, graphing them like TV Guides. The Sun (2010) reveals much about Green’s mapping of information by merging each December of the artist’s life with a television program from that time, reflecting on a universalized nostalgia for the cable television of our childhood. Now that we live in an era where television is as often streamed as it is broadcast at a set time, watching TV can be a less communally timed experience. But in the 1980s and 1990s, you had to be glued to a television to watch a show—and you could be sure thousands of other people were watching too.

Like Zaldivar, Green also combines pop culture iconography with the personal. In his portrait of the cast of Star Trek, for example, the artist infused facial features from his friends onto the television characters.

Roger Swike, Untitled (Ten Drawings in Manila Folder – B), Ink, crayon, and marker on paper, 11.75 x 10 inches each.
Courtesy of the artist and Gateway Arts, Brookline, MA


On the surface, many of these works and their organizational principles seem chaotic, yet there is a distinct order in the way each of the artists construct their works. Roger Swike draws his textual graphs intuitively at first, adding more deliberate details as he moves through the process. Later, he places them into color-categorized folders. Creating a lexicon of his own through numbers and pop culture references, he forms particular patterns in the pieces, which he later revisits to add further nuances to his own methods.

William Scott, Disneywood in Hunters Point Areas in San Francisco for the Redevelopment Agency, 2006, Marker and ink on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and Creative Growth, San Francisco, CA


San-Francisco artist William Scott is interested in community-based organizing through activism and utopian philosophy. The exhibition includes some of the plans for Praise Frisco, the artist’s envisioning of a new city rising in the wake of a “cancelled” San Francisco, including a revitalization plan for his own socially marginalized area of Hunter’s Point. Ambitious and precise architectural drawings relay his idealist vision for the future. 

All of the artists unlock ways of seeing the world through their work, specifically by incorporating text in their drawings and diagrams. Though we may not understand exactly how they view the world, through lists, architectural plans, maps, and pop culture symbols, we can concretely relate. List-making unifies in its inherent ability to convey how each person plans, schedules, and quantifies their existence—be it in the form of a daily routine or a list of goals. Pop cultural references bring together collective touchstones and experiences with the individual’s. And through maps and blueprints, a specific time and place can be mathematically pinned down. These methods of organizing and categorizing—list making, diagramming—give order and sense to all our lives. But the artists in Mapping Fictions show how these tools are not just personal, but communicative. They mediate their experiences of the past and dreams for the future in this public, yet intimate archive.

William Scott, Inner Limits to the Future of Hollywood of the Real Science Fiction Movies, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 54 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and Creative Growth, San Francisco, CA


Sola Agustsson

Sola Agustsson is a writer based in Los Angeles. She studied at UC Berkeley and has contributed to Bullett, Flaunt, The Huffington Post, Alternet, Artlog, Konch, and Whitewall Magazine.


(Image at top: Daniel Green, Little Mac Vs Soda Popinski, 2015mixed media on wood. Courtesy of the artist and Creativity Explored, San Francisco, CA)

Posted by Sola Agustsson on 8/6 | tags: drawing progressive art studios joe zaldivar pop culture text artists with developmental disabilities william scott Roger Swike Daniel Green

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