About the Artist
Joyce Pensato was an American artist who created large scale, Pop, abstract and complex paintings of popular cartoon characters.
Early Life and Education
Joyce Pensato was born in Brooklyn in 1941. Her father emigrated from Sicily when he was thirteen and learned to speak English by watching American movies. He worked as a printmaker, often helping artists with their book productions. Her mother was a homemaker. Pensato said that her father was an ‘outsider artist’ and encouraged her interest in art by bringing home art supplies and making toys and dolls for her and her brother, Ben. The art she was introduced to as a child was from the Sunday newspaper cartoons and comic books.
After attending an arts high school and taking some commercial art classes at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Pensato realized that she enjoyed drawing gestural art more than detailed commercial art.
She took classes at the Art Students League and won a travel grant for a year in Europe. Viewing the art in Europe made her realize that she wanted to continue her fine art education. When she returned to New York she applied to the New York Studio School. Her application was rejected, but she was allowed to take classes during the summer of 1973. She was finally accepted after submitting her second application, and spent the next six years studying at the Studio School.
Abstract expressionist painter Joan Mitchell became a mentor, and invited Pensato to visit her in Paris, where she had set up a studio in 1959. Pensato said that Mitchell asked her, “What kind of painter do you want to be? Do you want to be one of those German Expressionists painting without color, without light? Or, do you want to be French — with light and color and air?” Pensato said, “I want to be French!” That conversation made her realize that she was an Expressionist who pained without color.
It took a while, but Pensato began to find her own style and technique. Though it looks like it was done with large, loose brushstrokes, her work is actually done with careful outlines and, often, much scraping of paint layers and erasures.
In 1983 her work began to be included in group shows in galleries in New York and around the U.S. What she believed would be her big break came in 1990, when she was offered a solo show at the Fiction/Non-Fiction Gallery in SoHo. The gallery cancelled the show at the last minute, the gallery owner telling Pensato that she her work wasn’t ready.
She dealt with the rejection by going back into her studio and painting fearlessly, making large cartoon characters with swooping lines, replacing the oil paint she was using with black, white and silver enamel.
After years of struggle, Pensato’s works garnered much attention and critical success and she was the recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996, the Award of Merit Medal for Painting from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012 and the The Robert de Niro, Sr. Prize in 2013.
Joyce Pensato spent her entire life living and working in Brooklyn. She died in New York in 2019, at age 77.
Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world and can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.