Did the frolic come first or the spring in which to frolic? In Tompkins' impressionist paintings on photographic images, women from the 30's and 40's saucily act out in a frothy, leafy, grassy, effulgent playground, like nymphs in a naturalist boudoir.
In contrasting colors, where the red next to green or fuchsia beside puce is as vibrant as a gift wrapped with the freshness of nature; Betty Tompkins' pin-ups from the past cavort in the outdoors. Like a flurry of covert caresses between viridian landscapes and scantily clad figures, tantalizing fleshy hues are discretely muted by the photographic gradations from white to black as they lay in the arms of pastel bushiness. That the underwear is dated, and the poses comparatively innocent, almost 'delicate'; creates an allure that is missing from the inundation of graphic pornographic imagery that the twenty-first century is a party to. This subtle historical distancing of skin upon skin is further separated from immediate grasp by the cushioning grass, flowers or reflective water that frames in a context that lends a new narrative to the pose. The partially clothed, semi-nude and naked are flimsily focused and mesmerized in self absorption, either in mutual frolic or nymphatically alone.
There's a surrealistic movie-scene reminiscent of Bonny and Clyde in the aspect of a vintage car supporting the roadside assignations of a kissing couple, exposed to a kneeling brazen goddess perched slightly atop of the grass. The fully clothed figure in gloves (an aunt, a mother?) about to burst in on the fondling of the two women carries a story line past the immediate sensual encounter and into the past or future tense. The lounging young man on the tiger throne who contemplates the buttocks of the unknown bather is relaxed in his perusal of the possibilities before him. Throughout the series, there is an innocent yet ominous aura, like the pleasant anticipation of a treat yet to be delivered. Seduction is in play. The end is assured and the pace slows down to a natural rhythm.
Part of the sensual enjoyment is in the appraisal of Tompkins' facile rendering of the environment. Similar to the effect of the impressionist's paintings, her light strokes indicate a soft rustling movement like air as it flows through grasses and leaves, rippling the water and sending the sweet smells of spring forth to the awakening nostrils of reclining lovers. These are lush, satisfying paintings that quench unrealized thirsts and drench the senses in loveliness. The tableaux of flirtatious foreplay are reminiscent of Greek Goddesses cavorting before the Gods came to couple with them or Monet's garden when pretty cheekiness was left alone to explore delightful delecatto.
Copyright © 2008, Julie Oakes