Joyce Pensato’s dirty brand of Pop Art takes characters from cartoons and comics (Homer Simpson, Mickey Mouse, Batman) and subjects them to a violent onslaught of enamel paint. Though usually limiting her palette to black and white, the artist has introduced metallic shades of copper and gold into a few of the new paintings in her current show of paintings and
works on paper.
Pensato’s large-scale canvases are pleasantly enveloping. Alternately tarry and milky, they’re seductive, raw and possessed of a material presence that’s not unlike tribal art. The same can’t be said of her drawings, however. Made with smeared charcoal strokes and scrubby erasures, they’re mostly diminutive, robbing the images of their dynamism and making them seem less dramatic and more repetitive. Included as well are digital C-prints of Pensato’s paint-splattered studio walls, pinned with spontaneous collages of torn pictures, put there, possibly, for inspiration. The photos portray her studio as the sort of environment where everything is in danger of being stained, ripped or demoralized.
They’re a reminder, too, of Pensato’s feral process, a messy besmirching of characters invented to entertain us. Obeying gravity, her enamel drips deface the goofy charms of her subjects, adding iconic urgency while also teasing out their inherent menace.
Pensato recalls our ancient need to represent ourselves through symbols—stylized shapes meant to convey the power of meaning. She does something similar with her cartoons, reducing them to primal forms and using them like a guilty conscience to snap us back to attention.—Jennifer Coates