I LOVE JOYCE PENSATO! She’s not only an amazing painter, she is fabulous in every sense, her character being just as enormous as her work. Full of fun and always laughing, her sense of humour and take on life is joyously reflected in her work. Mainly painting in black and white, her most frequent muses are the Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, Batman, Donald Duck, Felix and characters from South Park…
Above: FELIX 2007
Above: MOUSE MASK
Above: LIZA AT BERLIN
And just so you get a sense of how big some of her pieces are, here’s part of her exhibition at the Santa Monica Museum of Art…!
Above: this take on OUTRAGEOUS DAISY is over 30 feet high!
Joyce has lived in New York all her life. Her Sicilain father was a printmaker and used to bring home materials and encourage her in art. Initially she studied fashion illustration as was expected of girls at the time, but she quickly discovered that she just wasn’t suited to tiny details.
Above: MOTO MOUTH
Above: HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU
Above: I DON’T WANT TO BE TAMED
Joyce got a scholarship to art school, but thinking she knew more than the teachers she dropped out! Then, realising she knew nothing, she enrolled at The Arts Student League and studied under Morris Kantor who taught Rauschenberg. After that she applied to The New York Studio School, but was rejected by the dean who said, “We don’t know what to do with you; I can’t tell what you’re doing.”
Above: an early MICKEY 1994
And below: TWO MICKEYS 2003
Joyce took the rejection as an opportunity to travel round Europe and on her return she reapplied, this time successfully. In 1973 she enrolled at the New York Studio School. It’s founder, the artist Mercedes Matter, was a tough critic. Pensato says Mercedes once erased one of her drawings three times, saying she didn’t pay attention to the negative space, and that the figure, in relationship to the ladder and the platform, was far too short and small. But Pensato stood her ground and told Mercedes that she was eight inches shorter than her and so saw things from a different perspective. Mercedes was excited by Joyce’s work, especially her Batman paintings.
Pensato’s love affair with Batman began in 1976 and continues to this day. Above is the recent PRINCE OF GOLD. She says she tried painting Superman but he was too normal and Spiderman was too soft and like a ballerina. Whereas Batman was tough.
Joyce’s earliest works were in charcoal, but then she discovered enamel paint through her great friend Christopher Wool whom she met in 1973. She likes the wet, sticky appearance of enamels and the fact that they are tough. She and Wool once shared a studio together and remain great friends to this day, supporting each other’s work. Wool’s father was Joyce’s first collector and Joyce is also a fan of typography like Wool…
Joyce says she quickly realised she wasn’t great with colour and was better off without it. Especially after discovering Franz Kline’s black and white paintings which she loved.
Above: EVIL STAN
Above: FELIX iii
However, recently she has begun introducing a little colour, saying, “I realized I could work with colours now because in the drawings, I have been using a little bit of colour pastel, especially when I beat the image down by drawing and redrawing so much that a little hint of colour could bring the image alive again. But it doesn’t always work when the beating has gone too far.”
Above: DUCK SOUP
Above: THE OUTRAGEOUS DAISY
Joyce has a strong connection to immigrant and black culture and says that when she was a little girl she wanted to be Irish because she thought being Irish was very American. Then when she became a teenager she wanted to be Jewish because Jews were very cultured. And recently, in the last 10 years or so, she says she wants to be black.
Above: YOU’RE JUST THE ONE I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
Above: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE
Above: A DIFFERENT HOMER
Although much of Pensato’s work looks spontaneous, she does in fact give most pieces two or three shots, sometimes more, until it’s like she wants it, and looks like it’s been done in one shot! She says, “It takes a long time to be so simple, because there is so much history underneath that, and to get it just right is a real trick. If I do anything more to it than needed, it’s gone.”
She also likes the way enamels splash and says, “Recently I’ve been working with all kinds of drips on photos, which I feel have a connection to boxing and violence.”
Above: CASSIUS CLAY
Above: DE NIRO
At the moment she is also obsessed with moustaches and eyebrows and has been painting Homer Simpson with bushy eyebrows.
Above: BUSHY HOMER
I do hope you’ve loved sharing Joyce Pensato’s work with me. Her studio is just as amazing as she is so I will save that for another feature. But in the meantime I’ll leave you with this fab little 2 minute video of Joyce dancing with Oliver Herring! Do leave me your thoughts…
WORDS: Cand Juskus and Joyce Pensato (Joyce’s words are taken from a fantastic interview she did over at Brooklyn Rail with Pong Bui)
IMAGES: Joyce Pensato