Joyce Pensato

Joyce Pensato (Aug 20th 1941 – June 13th 2019) was an American painter known for her paintings, representing pop culture and cartoon characters.

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times Ms. Pensato in 2016 in her Brooklyn studio.

Roberta Smith (2019), when referring to the artist in her obituary, wrote: “Joyce Pensato, a painter who took the Abstract out of Abstract Expressionism and added a little Pop, making large-scale black-and-white paintings that transformed popular cartoon characters into ambiguous, emotionally complex and sometimes scary creatures”

Joyce Pensato’s art did not mature until the 1990’s, after she turned 50. Her studio was paint splattered and covered with stuffed animals and toys which provided the inspiration for her work. She found them in charity and thrift stores. She said they were ‘lobotomised’ and wanted to extract feelings, and strong personality and expression out of them.

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Joyce Pensato at her Williamsburg studio in Brooklyn. Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

She used a severe black and white pallette and worked large scale. She used aggressive brushwork.

“They are variously comedic, menacing or pathetic — or, confusingly, all three at once.” Roberta Smith (2019)

She used large strokes, drips and blurs, and her work towers over the viewer. Her work is reminiscent of Abstract expressionism, though with defined, popular culture icons.

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Installation view: Joyce Pensato, I KILLED KENNY, Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2013. Courtesy the artist; Petzel, New York; Santa Monica Museum of Art. Photo: Monica Orozco.
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“Big Mickey” (2007). Credit…Joyce Pensato/Petzel, New York
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Photo: Elizabeth Ferry. Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York.

I find Pensato’s work intriguing and exciting. It is dynamic and fresh, and has a dark element to it. Her free-flowing brush strokes and dynamic self expression are very expressionistic, yet keeping a sense of form and structure. The limited palette she uses is very effective, and keeps an element of simplicity to the paintings.

I love the way she has embodied the cartoon element of popular culture, and I think a wide spectrum of society are able to identify with her work, including adults and children alike.

I am inspired for my next assignment, where I have decided to represent a group of my son’s plush toys from the ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ series, which is also popular culture. I was going to use charcoal, but seeing these paintings, I think I will also experiment with some colour. Maybe charcoal and watercolour. I will have to experiment a little in my sketchbook, see what the effect looks like. I also considered the idea of using some pastels to add colour. More experiments!


Smith, R.(2019) ‘Joyce Pensato, Who Made Cartoon Characters Complex, Dies at 77’ In: The New York Times 24/06/2019. At: (Accessed 21/04/2021)

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