Tompkins finds such public laments inauthentic and absurd—these aren’t true apologies, she believes, but “apologia,” or defenses. In her paintings, the language of these carefully crafted statements mask women’s bodies. And the source imagery she chooses often relates to the details of the #MeToo sagas; she situates the statement by Ronell, one of the few women implicated in recent allegations, into a scene that features a woman looking in the mirror.
Though Tompkins is perhaps best-known for her series of large-scale, realistic, explicitly titled paintings of genitals—“Fuck Painting,” “Masturbation Painting,” “Cunt Painting,” “Girl on Girl Painting”—language plays a vital role in many of her bodies of work. A current P.P.O.W
show, on view through December 22nd, intersperses Tompkins’s “Apologia” works with her related “Women Words” series (2015). Here, Tompkins overlays reproductions of paintings with phrases and anecdotes related to women and their anatomy, all crowdsourced from mass emails sent to friends and peers in 2002 and 2013. Responses, she specified
, could “be affectionate (honey), pejorative (bitch), slang, descriptive.” Over 3,500 words and phrases flooded her inbox. “Women Words” incorporates many of those derogatory terms—“flesh wallet,” “bitch,” “damsel in distress”—and becomes a creative indictment of a culture that has found so many ways to insult women.