HOTEL is pleased to present the first solo exhibition in London by the New York-based artist Joyce Pensato.
Joyce Pensato is one of the few – and perhaps the only – significant Williamsburg, Brooklyn artist who is actually from the neighbourhood, and not a transplant there. She lives and works in East Williamsburg, and grew up close by in Bushwick. Her mother was Italian-American, her father was a Sicilian immigrant enthralled with American symbols including baseball and the Statue of Liberty. As a child, Pensato was steeped in the rhythms of an ethnic neighbourhood clinging to age-old traditions while absorbing the new – a neighbourhood in which Catholic iconography and imagery abutted and melded with pop culture jetsam, and in which religious processions easily segued into street fairs and cheesy carnivals. Years later, Pensato radically transforms some of that pop culture jetsam, in black and white paintings of iconic cartoon figures that have marked psychological intensity and an arresting mix of both exuberance and unease.
While hardly nostalgic, many of Pensato’s paintings (notably of Mickey Mouse, who debuted in 1928, Donald Duck, who debuted in 1934, and Felix the Cat, who predates both to 1922) evoke a more innocent America at mid-century and before, and send that milieu careening into contemporary conflicts, anxieties, and desires, both personal and national. At first glance the paintings look casual, perhaps dashed off in a few minutes, but that casual look was patiently achieved, and the complex behaviour of paint is a key to the work. Gradations of thickness, splatters, tangential mini-streaks that jet at odd angles, and borders that fray into particles and gaps all make these images at once intact and precarious. Pensato’s painterly touch is vigorous and wilfully rough, with broad gestures, drips, smears, scrapes, and erasures making for an action-packed surface. Still, this turbulent surface (it should also be noted that Pensato is not a rapid, instinctual painter; on the contrary, bursts of activity are accompanied by long contemplation, scrutiny, editing, and innumerable adjustments) discloses moments of supreme beauty – an elemental meeting of a few black drops on a white ground, a tiny black line gracefully angling across a white expanse – that have an aura of serenity and loveliness.
In addition to finished paintings, and myriad paintings and drawings in progress, Pensato’s studio sports a sprawling assortment of stuffed animals and plastic toys based on cartoon figures, which serve as models for her paintings. As one sorts through this ragged collection, one finds multiple versions of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, various characters from South Park, and Bart and Homer from The Simpsons, among others. Almost all are American pop culture icons, which have long since spread to become global icons as well, but in Pensato’s studio you notice how worn, sullied, rumpled, and used they really are. Some were purchased in thrift stores, some were found on the street, others have simply been with Pensato for years.
From Gregory Volk, In the Neighborhood: Joyce Pensato’s Recent Paintings, Joyce Pensato: The Eraser, exhibition catalogue.
Joyce Pensato was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She has exhibited widely, including recent exhibitions at Capitain Petzel, Berlin and Fredrich Petzel, New York. Previous exhibitions include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the St. Louis Art Museum (with Mike Kelley and Raymond Pettiborn). Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the FRAC des Pays de la Loire, and the Dallas Museum of Art among others. She lives and works in Brooklyn.