“I don't like cuteness. Cuteness is not there.”
The Brooklyn born and bred, American-Sicilian artist Joyce Pensato paints the underside of the American dream as represented by the output of Hollywood and its merchandising. From Batman to Donald Duck, from Homer Simpson to Elmo, Pensato’s dark sense of humor invades these icons in her almost monochromatic renderings that nod more towards Abstract Expressionism than Pop Art.
As she explained to Art Paper’s Will Corwin “Growing up Catholic has something to do with it. Going to church, you're seeing the altars, the theater. I went to church every Sunday, but I did a lot of fantasy dreaming there… and it was not religious! I love all that heavy emotion, the drama of Christ on the cross. I couldn't get enough of it. Even a big Donald Duck face is a symbol that we all know, but it's also very powerful.”
It was whilst studying at the New York Studio School, at the urging of her teachers in the early 1970’s that Pensato found her niche.
About which she told Time Out London last year “I was doing these big abstract paintings at the New York Studio School, which was all about the “still life”. They weren’t coming together so my tutor said, “I don’t care what you look at but you have to work from something.” I knew that I didn’t want to do apples and pears, so I got out of the studio to see what I wanted to work with. At that time it was pop culture and you could get a lifesize cardboard cut-out of Batman, and so I set that up as a still life on the floor and realised that I had found my language.”
But over the years Pensato has found that she can only relate to certain American popular icons and European ones leave her totally cold.
As she says “It's the aesthetic structure. Superman is too human, Superman has a real face—I like disguises; I like masks. I tried doing Spider-Man, but I found him too round and soft... Batman is very angular—a tough guy—but he also represents pop culture. They have to have something deeper that I connect to. If I connect to it, I know the viewer is also connecting to something as well. I haven't analyzed it too deeply, but I think I'm connecting to everyone's inner self—to their childhood. I know I'm just having fun, but I'm dealing with the American icon. They have to be more than Mickey Mouse with a lobotomy. Icons! I like icons… They're not cute; they're bad boys. I use them as a form of getting into the paint. I see them as abstraction—they're very simple and abstract, a couple of swipes with the brush—but they mean something. Homer is amazing. He's a symbol of every man with a bald head. I don't watch The Simpsons, but I love the way they're drawn. They're an American culture thing. I seem to connect with that. When I was living in France I tried to get hooked up to the stuff in France and Belgium. Tintin? I had no connection to it. I find I'm still crazed over Donald Duck.”
Pensato’s currnet exhibition Later is Now is on show at Berlin’s Capitain Petzel gallery until the 22 of December.