Joyce Pensato

Lisson Gallery, London, UK

What do you get when you cross the contemporary derangement of American politics, various cartoon heroes (Homer Simpson, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck), the spectres of abstract expressionism and that dystopian goon Donald Trump? The huge new paintings in Joyce Pensato’s show, ‘FORGETTABOUT IT’, kid! Funny and sinister, they also provide the weirdest Mickeys’ since Keith Haring drew him, wide-eyed and with a UFO scanning his brain, in 1983. Aged 76, the Brooklynite has found a scuzzy strategy for capturing the madness of right now through pictures that look like broadcasts from a malfunctioning TV. Paint drools down canvas as noxiously as acid rain on chrome and any hints of Looney Tunes zaniness come spiked with something totally ghostly. Robert De Niro’s appearance on the wallpaper upstairs as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976; who remains hellishly relevant not only as a spree killer but also as the veteran of a hopeless war) is just one example of the American meltdown that Pensato chronicles in her work. The timeliness of such dystopian vibes is undeniable but Pensato’s paintings are also full of goofy delight: she makes mischief with her brush, just like Donald Duck in ‘Wet Paint’ (1946).

joyce-pensato-installation-view-of-forgettabout-it.-lisson-gallery-london-may-2017.-photo-by-jack-hems_1.jpg

Joyce Pensato, ‘FORGETABOUT IT’, 2017, installation view, Lisson Gallery, London

Joyce Pensato, ‘FORGETABOUT IT’, 2017, installation view, Lisson Gallery, London. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London © the artist; photograph: Jack Hems

The duck is the doomed hero of Four Donalds 1–4 (all works 2017) – his black feathers melting to goo as he eyeballs the hole where his heart should be, rocking back and forth from one picture to another. (A greedy beast lunching between slapstick crises: the paintings are a hot allegory for the woes of the other Donald.) The backdrop is pure gold, like the walls of a Bond villain’s lair or the toilet bowls on Trump’s private jet before he squelched onto Air Force One. Homer Simpson is feeling the effects of industrial decline according to Pensato’s Homer in the Hood. The mugshot-like portrait in smog grey shows – to quote his boss’s assistant, Smithers – the ‘carbon blob from Sector 7G’ as a blue-collar casualty: wrecked from a lifetime of knocking back Duff beer and ingesting plutonium at the nuclear power plant. 

joyce-pensato-installation-view-of-forgettabout-it.-lisson-gallery-london-may-2017.-photo-by-jack-hems_900.jpg

Joyce Pensato, ‘FORGETABOUT IT’, 2017, installation view, Lisson Gallery, London. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London; photograph: Jack Hems

Joyce Pensato, ‘FORGETABOUT IT’, 2017, installation view, Lisson Gallery, London. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London © the artist; photograph: Jack Hems

Any fancy sucker can bloviate about politics, satire or the subversive use of cartoons and totally ignore how Pensato melts different modes and eras of painting together to make her funky works. She creates tableaux in which abstract expressionism feeds, zombie-like, off pop art’s Day-Glo carcass and combines the formal economy of the graffiti tag with heavy, sludge-caked surfaces. She’s loyal to the gnarly textures of her home turf, too, like other New York painters such as Franz Kline or Christopher Wool, whose abstractions of city life evoke industrial pollutants or scorched tyres recording car crashes. Blank space eats away at wherever the Dark Knight was in The Erased Batman, repeating Robert Rauschenberg’s prankster blanking of a drawing by Willem de Kooning. Somewhere in the void there’s a wisecrack about urban decay, too – the painting might double as a disintegrating subway poster: ‘Make Gotham Great Again!’ 

joyce-pensato-installation-view-of-forgettabout-it.-lisson-gallery-london-may-2017.-photo-by-jack-hems.jpg

Joyce Pensato, ‘FORGETABOUT IT’, 2017, installation view, Lisson Gallery, London. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London © the artist; photograph: Jack Hems

Everybody’s mimicking Batman and trying to quit the scene somehow – from Travis in Taxi Driver, aiming his gun at the mirror, to the two beastie boys in Landscape Mickey, who are en route to shenanigans elsewhere. Donald Duck returns as a gangster in the five parts of Let’s Blow This Joint, eyes bug and plumage spiky: the duck’s been at the goofballs or just dropped a stick of dynamite in his shorts. The ‘joint’ could be the body or mind as much as any boring environment because, by the third picture, Donald’s is degenerating from ‘duck’ to frenzied scrawl: it looks like so much fun.

Main image: Joyce Pensato, Landscape Mickey, 2017, enamel and metallic paint on linen, 203 x 325 x 4 cm. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London; photograph: Jack Hems

Charlie Fox is a writer who lives in London, UK. His book of essays, This Young Monster, is published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. 

Most Read

The removal of the Confederate monuments in Baltimore shows decisiveness after years of inaction – already they stand...
Yayoi Kusama to open her own museum; Confederate monuments removed in Baltimore; David Roberts Art Foundation to leave...
From a tribute to Straub/Huillet to Valerie Massadian’s portrait of teenage motherhood, the turn to real situations and...
Japan’s growing number of art festivals tread a precarious path between state-sponsored leisure-culture and soft-power...
Fifty years after the term was coined, a show in Samos reflects on ‘the unlikely liaison between love and politics’
In the Rocky Mountains resort town, boutique facades hide the remnants of a surprising counterculture 
Pussy Riot members detained; Pope.L launches ‘Flint Water Project’; Ghetto Biennale participating artists announced
Arsenale and Giardini, Venice, Italy
SoundCloud has been invaluable to the new music community for both documentation and discovery – now the audio-...
The extraordinary life of the late, great, gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas
Various venues, New York, USA
At a time of instantaneous information and fetishized immersivity, artists are evoking scent as an alchemical, bodily...
With her current show at Gasworks, London, the Kuwaiti artist shares some influential images
20 years after Hong Kong’s handover to China, a new generation of artists dive into the city-state’s unknown futures...
‘Klassensprachen’ engaged artists, writers and publishers in soul-searching around the interlinking of class, language...
In lieu of institutional support, artists are working together to achieve a remarkable self-sufficiency
From being citizens to lovers, the most important things in life can’t be professionalized. Is it time for some...
From an inflatable anti-capitalist dragon to the shattered shadow of Robert Burns: highlights from this year’s...
The City of London’s annual sculpture park reveals the complex interplay between global corporations, urban space and ‘...
Romare Bearden, Pittsburgh Memory, 1964, mixed media collage and graphite on board, 22 x 30 cm. Courtesy: © Romare Bearden Foundation / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017
Successfully layering a broader socio-historical narrative onto a period of radical non-conformity, this is an...
Trump’s trashing of the Paris Climate Accord makes it clear: we can't be satisfied with art about the political, art...
With a strong surrealist strain, and including a welcome number of female artists, highlights from the 48th edition of...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017