Critics’ Picks

Joyce Pensato, Joyceland in London, 1981–2014, mixed media. Installation view.


Joyce Pensato

Lisson Gallery | 27 Bell Street | London
27 Bell Street
May 5–May 10

There is something rather scary about a larger-than-life, splashily painted Donald Duck. Even Silver Batman, 2014, a schematic Batman mask that takes up an entire wall, can evoke petrifaction as it dribbles silver and black paint like graffiti melting on a hot summer day. Having spent a long career suturing together pop-cultural references—specifically those of iconic cartoon characters—with an Abstract Expressionist gesture, Joyce Pensato’s first exhibition in the United Kingdom seems to demonstrate that painting can be many things at once.

Like the cartoonists whose characters she appropriates, the septuagenarian uses repetition as key to her approach. This is not just in her constant return to the same subjects, but also in Pensato’s repetitive painterly brushstrokes that take these simple images of Homer Simpson, Mickey Mouse, and South Park’s Cartman from kitsch to art and back again. The explosive nature of the medium’s splatter, recalling the emotive dynamism of Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, is in stark contrast to the linear cool of the original animations.

“Joyceland” however offers much more than just celebrity rictus. In her last few exhibitions, larger and larger portions of her studio have migrated across the world into galleries. Described as “studio accumulation from 1981 to present day,” the grubby teddy bears and dusty toys, violent enamel-splattered posters of celebrities and superheroes, and paintbrushes in solidified half-used cans of paint are here reassembled variously as collages and assemblages in Joyceland in London, 1981–2014. When considered with the paintings, this installation as model of studio excess offers a view of American culture through two of its most potent visual forms, Pop art and Abstract Expressionism, but amid all this it also provides an expression of the artist herself.