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Photograph: Courtesy of Corbett vs. DempseyJoyce Pensato, Hey Now, 2012.

Joyce Pensato at Corbett vs. Dempsey | Art review

Pensato’s paintings of pop-culture characters haunted us for days.


Joyce Pensato has strewn the floor of Corbett vs. Dempsey’s spacious third-floor gallery with dozens of stuffed animals and toys, which lay around the Brooklyn studio that she used for 32 years until leaving it in 2011, due to a dispute with her landlord. Most of them are laced with streaks of paint from being piled next to canvases in progress.

The venerable artist’s paintings are the heart of “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do”: a series of black-and-white works, most between five and six feet high, with images derived from cartoon characters such as Homer Simpson, South Park’s Kenny, and assorted toys and clowns. Pensato uses enamel and metallic paint, which she lashes and slashes onto the canvas using a brush, knife and rag. She builds up the surfaces of these pieces, constantly overpainting until all that’s left are the characters’ eyes and mouths, their iconic shapes transformed into menacing presences resembling the carved animal heads of West African masks.

Pensato’s stuffed animals distract from the power of these paintings, though it’s amusing to see them, and I can understand the artist wanting to pay homage to her former workspace. Similarly underconceived, her recent collages are little more than hastily collected magazine photos with some paint splashes added.

The paintings are the reason to see this show. As I stared for a long time at Hey Now (2012), its lustrous black marks swimming on a bed of white enamel began to look like something painted by a demented Franz Kline. It haunted my dreams for days afterward.

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