RIP to an Original Spirit, Joyce Pensato
Today, we found out that NYC-painter, Joyce Pensato, has passed away. Born in 1941 in Brooklyn, Pensato was an influential, punk, pop-altering painter, one with charisma and undeniable spirit. We look back today an excerpt from our October 2014 feature with Joyce, with interview and portrait by our then NYC editor, Austin McManus.
Having lived in Brooklyn her entire life, Joyce has watched the surroundings and the people in them transform rapidly. Unlike most natives, she remains unusually optimistic despite being pushed out of her studio of three decades just a few years ago. In one area of her studio, a torrent of paint splatters are gradually building on every surface, as one-gallon buckets of 1-Shot enamel, the predominant choice of sign painters, are scattered about. Stepping closer into this corner, the distinctively toxic smell of paint permeates the air.
While waiting on the sidewalk of a bustling and roaring trucker route in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a door to an industrial building swung open. I was greeted by Elizabeth and invited in. We rode an old, dimly-lit freight elevator up two flights, passed through a few doorways, and entered what is referred to as Joyceland. Elizabeth asked if I had met Joyce before, and when I replied, “No,” she nodded. “Oh, you're gonna like her.” Within a few minutes of waiting in the spacious and visually explosive studio of Joyce Pensato, she strolled through with her dog, Charlie, and after an introduction, remarked, without skipping a beat, “You're so clean looking!” I laughed, thinking, “I already do like her.” Uncensored, vivacious and engaging, Joyce is in her element in her studio environment. The “serious art studio” vibe is left on the curb, making for a light-hearted and creative atmosphere.
Having lived in Brooklyn her entire life, Joyce has watched the surroundings and the people in them transform rapidly. Unlike most natives, she remains unusually optimistic despite being pushed out of her studio of three decades just a few years ago. In one area of her studio, a torrent of paint splatters are gradually building on every surface, as one-gallon buckets of 1-Shot enamel, the predominant choice of sign painters, are scattered about. Stepping closer into this corner, the distinctively toxic smell of paint permeates the air. This is where Joyce appropriates her ensemble of iconic American cartoon characters that delve into the realm of abstract expressionism. Her cast of characters include the familiar faces of Mickey Mouse, Batman, Donald and Daisy Duck, The Simpsons, Elmo, Felix the Cat, South Park's Kyle and Stan and more. Created in a frenzied style, her multi-layered, gestural paintings are straight-up menacing and deeply tragicomic. —Austin McManus
Austin McManus: Some of your paintings remind me of when graffiti writers use fire extinguishers or markers to make a drippy mess when writing their name. Growing up around New York, graffiti was inescapable, especially during the '80s and '90s. Are you at all attracted to or interested in graffiti at all? I heard a rumor that you once painted a spot with brushes. Is that true?
Joyce Pensato: I love graffiti. I'm a wannabe tagger. I love the act because it's so powerful. Back in the heyday, around 2000, there was this blank wall in the 'hood that you could see from blocks away. One Sunday morning, I was walking with Max the dog and decided to make a simple expression of Donald Duck. I brought my Japanese brushes, turpentine and enamel lettering paint and did it. It stayed up for at least two days and then they covered it up. It looked great, especially at night. I made such a mess on the sidewalk, and wound up paying someone to clean it up. I loved the action! In 1997, I did paint "The Eraser" on my studio door and it was there until I moved in 2011. I was tagged that by my friend, Malachi, who lives in Paris. We did a project together, and I was always erasing what I was doing, so I became The Eraser and it stuck! I would have loved to go out to make graffiti with the guys. In my head, I can see it. In reality, forgettaboutit!
Your studio environment seems like it's very important to your creative process, like, “It's my world and I want to be one with it!”
Everything in my studio is important to me. It triggers my process. The placement, height and distance are most important. The objects that sit around speak to me and grab me. I connect to them, own them and bring them to life.
Batman and Felix the Cat are some of your muses, so to speak. What attracts you to those particular characters?
When I first got into Batman, I was attracted to his ears and his structure. Then came Mickey. I liked his ears too. I like Donald's beak and Felix's eyes.
Read more about Pensato's passing here.