Joyce Pensato paints exuberant, explosive large-scale likenesses of cartoon characters and comic-book heroes. Her seemingly frenzied technique – actually involving the deliberate accretion of successive layers of bold linear gestures, rapid spattering and frequent erasures – results in alternately humorous and sinister imagery. While her prima facie subject matter ranges from Batman, The Simpsons and Mickey Mouse to Felix the Cat and Elmo from Sesame Street, her artistic progenitors include Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Philip Guston.
As well as excising her floating heads from the contexts of Gotham, Disneyland, Springfield or South Park, Pensato situates her figures in troubling psychological states and indeterminate spaces. The true source of their meaning is concealed, not only by successive sweeps of paint, but beneath the guileless grin of Donald Duck or the Caped Crusader’s eye-less mask. Taking much of her material from her surroundings in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York – from graffitoed walls to hand-scrawled shop signs – Pensato paints almost exclusively in shop-bought black and white enamel, while also employing charcoal and pastel for smaller-scale drawings. Recently Pensato has begun painting oversized murals, often taking weeks to complete, while there are also occasional leaps away from the monochrome world she generally inhabits into sporadic bursts of colour, especially silver and gold. Her first major exhibition in London is scheduled for March 2014 and Lisson Gallery is representing Joyce Pensato in collaboration with Petzel Gallery, New York.
Joyce Pensato was born in Brooklyn, New York, where she continues to live and work. Her touring solo show, I Killed Kenny, first shown at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2013, is now travelling to the Contemporary Art Museum of St Louis (24 January-13 April 2014). Solo exhibitions include Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2013; Petzel Gallery, 2012, 2008, 2007, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, 2012, and Galerie Anne de Villepoix, 2010, 2000, 1998. Recent group exhibitions include Empire State, curated by Alex Gartenfeld and Sir Norman Rosenthal at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 2013; Interior Visions: Selections from the Collection by Alex Katz at the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, 2012; A Painting Show at The Speed Museum of Art, Louisville, 2011, and The Darker Side of Playland: Childhood Imagery from the Logan Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2000. Pensato’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; SFMOMA, San Francisco; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Dallas Museum of Art; St Louis Art Museum and the FRAC des Pays de la Loire. She has won numerous awards including the Robert de Niro, Sr. Prize (2013), the Award of Merit Medal for Painting, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2012), the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award (1997) and the Guggenheim Fellowship (1996).
'I met Jen when she was a baby!' Joyce Pensato tells her studio manager, Elizabeth Ferry, when I arrive. It's true that I met her about 14 years ago, in her former Williamsburg studio, and the experience was formative and unforgettable. The studio was a massive first floor space that felt completely exposed to the street and elements, as if its...