By Matthew Farina
If Batman has returned he is, for the moment, a New Yorker. Joyce Pensato’s current exhibit at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, her third showing in the space, is a revealing update for viewers. The artist has been painting Batman (a subject she has resurrected from her ‘90’s work) and other figures seen in American cartoons like Homer Simpson, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. The show also includes extensions of her studio life such as stuffed animals, paint-covered studio furniture, digital photographs and other ephemera.
|Joyce Pensato, Donald 2009, 2009, Enamel on Linen, 90 by 72 inches|
Pensato’s work darkly and roughly coats Pop art imagery with an AbEx shellac. But the sticky-looking surfaces and dirty synthetic fur seen in Batman Returns don’t feel overloaded with strategy. Pensato has let her inspirations emerge naturally. Attending the New York Studio School in the ‘70’s, she and her classmates worshipped Philip Guston. She later formed a relationship with Joan Mitchell—admiring the likes of Mitchell's big-brushed forcefulness. Pensato’s brassy grasp of paint as well as an interest in Pop icons has spilled gelatinously into a unique territory. As Jeff Koon’s impresses upon a larger public with a polished continuation of Pop art for the 2000’s, Pensato offers something grittier, more personal and imbued with a real sense of psychological turmoil.
One may wonder, given this grit and all the sullied surfaces, how Pensato is feeling. The loose boundaries from work to work in the new show help to make the paintings, photographs and installations one large arrangement of her emotional life. It’s clear that that there is little separation from the gallery to studio in terms of presentation—no tidying up needed in Pensato’s world. Drips of hardened enamel cover everything—as if, between loading the brush and contact with her canvas, Pensato let her drips fall on history. They form a speckled aura around the manic smiles of her subjects. As these cartoon figures, in their original form, are not this visceral or carved this boldly into existence, we learn that Pensato loves rawness. The audaciousness of her style, paint quality and treatment of found objects included, all charge outward. Piercing eyes and Rorschach-test-clumpiness confronts the viewer. The abrasive “Donald 2009” reveals these qualities as it verges into ugliness. The impact after a few minutes gets more melancholy—more poignant. Pensato's initial Pop deflates through an insinuation of her process—one that degrades and freakishly pokes at her once gleeful subjects through her purposeful sloppiness and speed. Never has SpongeBob SquarePants, in stuffed form, looked so lifeless and dirty—so depleted of hope.
In Batman Returns, Pensato’s East Williamsburg studio, where she worked for over 30 years, is meant to be considered. As her neighborhood certainly transformed before she moved in 2011, the artist’s cast of stuffed characters, and their appearance in her paintings, have weathered the changes with her. One can infer, if the Batmobile were Pensato’s to enjoy, she’d ride it happily for the junker it’s become.
Exhibition continues until February 25, 2012.
More information here: http://www.petzel.com/exhibitions/2012-01-12_joyce-pensato/