Looking Closely

BETTY TOMPKINS: Hi, I’m Betty Tompkins and you’re looking at my ‘WOMAN Words.’ There’s over 300 works here at the ICA and they are meant to be seen both as individual paintings, and as part of an installation. I sent out an e-mail to everybody on my e-mail last explaining that I wanted to do a series using language and would they please send me their words and phrases about women; and that it could be pejorative, like ‘bitch,’ could be affectionate like ‘honey,’ it could be slang. And if it wasn’t in English please send me a translation. And I got about 2000 unique words and phrases. In the end I had done about twelve hundred. I started out with 4 x 4 inches. When they’re small it encourages the viewer to come up and read it. You’re right up to the painting and I really wanted that experience.

I grew up making jokes about things that were uncomfortable. I mean, the ones that are really, really insulting? I just laughed at them.

There would have been no way, when I got this idea in 2002, to know how pertinent the idea would be in 2018. And we are certainly in a moment that makes this series more and more pertinent and more and more important.

Two Favorites

BETTY TOMPKINS: ‘Chubblies’ is Australian slang for big breasts. So I think that that’s a really sweet, funny one. And ‘The only thing that make her more beautiful would be my dick in her mouth”? That’s the one that offended a lot of people when it’s been shown, no doubt it will be here. I mean, the misogyny embedded in the statement is really pretty clear. I always pick it out as one of my favorites because its hostility is right up front. There’s nothing hidden about it.


Staff Pick: Betty Tompkins

Thursday, Aug 16

12:30 PM–1:00 PM


Betty Tompkins

Apr 21, 2018 – Sep 9, 2018