Joyce Pensato painted exuberant and explosive large-scale likenesses of cartoon characters and comic-book heroes. Her seemingly frenzied technique – involving the deliberate accretion of successive layers of bold linear gestures, rapid spattering and frequent erasures – results in alternately humorous and sinister imagery. While her prima facie subject matter ranged from Batman, The Simpsons and Mickey Mouse to Felix the Cat and Elmo from Sesame Street, her artistic progenitors include Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Philip Guston. Taking much of her material from her surroundings in her hometown of Brooklyn, New York – from graffitied walls to hand-scrawled shop signs – Pensato painted almost exclusively in shop-bought black and white enamel, while also employing charcoal and pastel for smaller-scale drawings. Pensato's oversized murals, often taking weeks to complete, were additional leaps away from the studio-based, monochrome world she generally inhabited, as were her sporadic bursts of colour, especially silver and gold.
Joyce Pensato (1941–2019) was born in Brooklyn, New York. Solo exhibitions included Grice Bench, Los Angeles, CA, USA (2018); Petzel Gallery, New York, NY, USA (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, USA (2016); Kunstraum Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria (2016); Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX, USA (2015); High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA, USA (2014); Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, CA, USA (2013); and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, MO, USA (2013). Group exhibitions included those at South London Gallery, London, UK (2018); Drawing Room, London, UK (2018); Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY, USA (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, USA (2017); Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, USA (2017); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA (2017); Aïshti Foundation, Jar el-Dib, Beirut, Lebanon (2016); Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Denmark (2016); and 'Empire State', curated by Alex Gartenfeld and Sir Norman Rosenthal at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome (2013). Pensato’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA; SFMoMA, San Francisco, CA, USA; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, USA; the Dallas Museum of Art, TX, USA; St Louis Art Museum, MO, USA and the FRAC des Pays de la Loire, France. She won numerous awards in her lifetime, including the Robert de Niro, Sr. Prize (2013), the Award of Merit Medal for Painting, given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2012), the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award (1997) and the Guggenheim Fellowship (1996).