The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2019

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JUL-AUG 2019 Issue
In Memoriam

A Tribute to Joyce Pensato


Portrait of Joyce Pensato, pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
Portrait of Joyce Pensato, pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Will Corwin

There were two parts of Joyceland: one was the chaotic never-ending party; the realm of Bacchus, of gold-plated guns, Big Ang, Ba ba Booey, fright wigs and golden shower caps. The other demesne was the home of Athena—a careful, sober, and cagey voyager navigating the rough sea of artistic creation and the art world, and a path Joyce pursued tirelessly for well over 50 years. The first place was what instantly jumps to the forefront, but I was reminded of the second after listening to an interview I did for the radio that was coincidentally my first meeting with her. Our first discussion was very methodical and precise, and she narrated her career: the highs and lows and the stops and starts. As with her paintings, Joyce made it look easy, but in fact it was an endless struggle: the brushstroke that looked like it had just swept across a plane of glistening gray enamel was in truth the result of countless sweeps and weeks of erasures, repainting, and modification. The eyes that seemed to emerge from nowhere, filled with mischief, pain, perception, or oblivion, coalesced after a lifetime of looking.

Photo courtesy Will Corwin.

Joyce was very exact about her moment of arrival in Joyceland. “Better late than never;” landfall took place in 1990, after a crushing disappointment when her first big one-person show was canceled last-minute. At that crucial moment she decided that the drawings would stay, and the paintings would embrace the drawings. Instead of some warmed-over imitations of mid-century abstraction which she had been trying to approximate at the Studio School in New York, she would paint what she liked.

Joyce wore her scars well and with pride—she was open about the criticisms she suffered; Mercedes Matter told her dismissively “look at something, I don’t care what it is, and get smaller brushes” and Joan Mitchell asked her caustically “do you still have that skin disease on your paintings?” Joyce found her sweet spot though, painted it big, and shouted it to the heavens—so to speak—painting her faces on the sides of buildings and the walls of museums across the world. “I love the Cherry picker,” she told me excitedly, and standing in the bucket clutching an oversized brush, the world finally listened.

Maybe she had a fairy-tale and rose-tinted Gucci sunglass view of the art world. In Joyceland she enjoyed the raucous bohemian life of luxury, of rubbing elbows with Sly Stallone and Bobby De Niro, and presiding over long tables of oysters, champagne, squid-ink pasta and well-fed friends, and hotel beds “with seven pillows,” and thank God she got it. But after the lean years of taking handouts from her devoted brother Ben, the first thing she did was remodel his apartment and buy him a new wardrobe. She ended our first interview with the most lucid description of success as an artist I’ve ever heard:

“I’m doing what I always loved to do, just work. You have an audience and you have peers—you make a couple of dollars.
What more do you want?”

Photo courtesy Will Corwin.

Mike Ballou

I just don’t get sad thinking about Joyce now: it’s almost impossible. If you look at the arc of her life, it was a continuous straight line, and most of that straight line was spent in poverty and rejection and she just kept going forward with the best attitude you could imagine.

We would talk about the process of making art. We were both very different artists, but both of us felt there’s this poetics you’re dealing with, and we talked a lot about that—I’m talking about studio work; just going into the studio and getting that moment of poetic clarity. Sometimes that zone is very brief but that’s all you really need. Once I have that movement I can actually have people in the studio because I’m locked in, and sometimes the external chatter will help me, but Joyce was never that kind of artist. She needed to be by herself with her music, just slopping paint all over the fucking place. It was direct contact with the pieces—she was always in direct contact with the piece. In terms of the subject matter, and this is a guess on my part, it was just formal: these things were cartoons and they weren’t beholden to art history, and I think it was an entrée into the real experience of making, and of looking at paint.

She was just a knockout. With the charcoal on paper, she would erase those things. With the paintings she would take rags with turpentine and wipe it off, so there were these layers and these textures that were built up. For sloppy-ass painting there was nothing drippy about them. One time we were in a show together and she was going to do a wall painting. Her model for her mural was this squishy little eyeball, the kind you could get in the quarter dispenser. She would just hold this thing and stare at it, and just squeeze it, and you’d see this other hand slowly reaching for the paint bucket, and she’d keep squeezing and staring at it. Then she’d drop it and sprint—Bam!—across the floor to the wall. That’s one of the few times I’ve actually seen her paint.

Her Olive Street studio was one of the most breathtaking places; so worked, so decrepit; pigeons flying, rain falling. The building was literally collapsing and she’s making these things on two opposing walls, and then those were surrounded by all the toys. Stuffed toys that were filled with paint. Everything was so filthy, but I always loved going to that place.

Joyce was a hybrid between aristocracy and a true bohemian. One day she’s in Chelsea, it’s winter, and she’s wearing her puffy studio thing with all this shit all over it. She looks like shit—and she had a coffee and she’s finished it, and she’s standing with an empty paper cup and some woman drops a five in it. I said, “what did you do with the fiver?” “I kept it!” I remember driving around with her one time—you know, her paintings, the actual things on canvas, are selling—and I said “Joyce,” cause this was when she was in transition in the studio, “you gotta think about saving that paint blob on your floor,” and she goes “fuck that! Sell the paintings.” Six months later [the paint blobs from the floor] are in a show, now they’re in a museum.

When she was in hospice I always made sure there were times when it was just her and me. We’re sitting there holding hands and I pause and I look, and I say, “are you afraid?” and she goes “no, whaddya gonna do?” It really says something about her character—she never made “art about art,” she was a real deal artist.

Photo: Elizabeth Ferry. Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York.

Andrea Belag

Joyce and I met in 1972 at the New York Studio School when we were in Steven Sloman’s seminar. We were just beginning to be painters and we were like a litter of puppies crawling all over each trying to discover ourselves and see who else was there.

One evening Joyce gave a dinner party in her studio—the big studio she had for many years without heat, only a partial ceiling, and scattered pigeon feathers. She made table decorations out of her “dollies” and studio props and I realized then that Joyce had a vision and she knew it.

As time went on, she emerged from the influences of Mercedes Matter and Joan Mitchell and she revealed her favorite artists to be Sue Williams and Paul McCarthy. It was a far cry from the New York School. Eventually, she transformed a cloud of charcoal dust into Gucci gold.

Joyce was loyal, outspoken, and a generous friend who wanted to help her fellow artists. She was empathetic until the end. When she told me that she was dying she called me back the next day to ask if I was okay.

Once we accepted her fate she was free to speak her mind and she ordered a continual supply of frankfurters and French fries with Diet Coke. “Extra ketchup, please, the good stuff.” Once the next visitor arrived, she spoke into her microphone and wagged her gold-plated pistol: “get the fuck out of my room.” No tears, no flowers, but I left with an abundance of emotion.

Joyce was one of the finest people I have known and a great artist who created unforgettable images. I was lucky to be able to thank her and tell her that I loved her.

Sherry Bittle

I landed in Brooklyn in the mid ’90s a block away from Joyce Pensato. I didn’t realize then how lucky I was, or what a powerful influence and support she would be for me as an artist and an animal lover. She was part of the community of makers in my Williamsburg neighborhood, hanging out in front of the deli, giving her pup half of her bagel and getting meatballs for later. Her slow steady pace got your attention, not to mention that she was always covered in paint and debris of sorts, as was the dog. Everyone else around her was racing to the pace of the city, yet Joyce kept her slow and steady stroll from apartment to studio, to apartment to studio. Like a heartbeat. The pulse of art, an art life force of my neighborhood, living and growing and thriving. Taking over the joint.

We would sit on a bench in Cooper Park, having coffee and hanging with our dogs, watching all the other dogs play—which gave her great joy. She would tell amazing and hilarious stories of her time with her mentor Joan Mitchell, the Studio School, how her work was—back then compared to now, and about confidence. She would tell me to get out there, tell me to get serious. Don’t be a loser! Her sometimes brutal honesty would sting, but after spending time with her you realized how observant she was. She could tell you that you weren’t ready yet (ouch), then be so kind, encouraging, and generous: all in the same sentence. And if you got a shove or a smack, you were gifted her highest affection. I realize now that she was giving back as it was given to her. She was trying to mentor me.

Watching her migrate back and forth every day, returning home covered in paint every night, I realized what she meant by getting serious. Making art was not a job or just something she did. It was her life: merged into a single entity. A beautiful wild art animal.

When my dear dog of 16.5 years died, she texted me every morning. No questions, or mush, or sympathies, just “Good Morning Sherry.” Letting me know I wasn’t alone. I will be eternally grateful for her knowing my heart and for understanding that love.

I was Prince Charlie’s babysitter when her career was a force to be reckoned with and she showed her work all over the world. I was her driver to take her wherever she wanted to go, which was usually just the grocery store, the drug store, that place with the good scented candles (only the best! Thank you very much!), and I was her friend.

Joyce Marie Pensato: I never met anyone like her. A once in a lifetime connection to the well of art, dark humor, kindness, and generosity beyond words. Her work and influence has given her immortality. Long live the Queen! That well will never ever run dry. Joyce is Brooklyn. Brooklyn’s past, present, and future.


I will miss her as long.

Installation view: Joyce Pensato: I KILLED KENNY, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2014. Courtesy the artist; Petzel, New York; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Photo: David Johnson.

Oliver Herring

I asked Joyce about a week before she died about death. “We’re all going to die. I’m just getting a head start.” She didn’t want to die, but she’d come to terms with it. If there was upset or fear, it didn’t show. “Soon we’re all going to be together again.”

Amazingly, she found beauty in the situation. She told Peter (Krashes, my husband) and I that she never liked touching or being touched by people. I knew that. Hugging and kissing was always connected to a bit of awkward body language. Since entering hospice however, she was at the mercy of nurses and doctors who did everything for her that her body couldn’t do anymore. She talked about how she relinquished control and discovered enjoyment in being taken care of around the clock, “they treat me like a queeeen.” All along, her two hands held onto Peter’s, gently stroking them. “I would have never done that, now look at me.”

That may have been true in general, but in the late ’90s and early 2000s I made videos featuring Joyce. She was always there when asked. Body contact and touch were part of the deal. For one video she danced a balletic duet with a young man, Davis Thomson Moss, who was wearing nothing but a flimsy pair of shorts and sneakers. All day long they fell into each other’s arms, holding, supporting, catching, and dragging each other across the studio floor. It was all touch, trust, and intimacy. While Davis was shirtless she was stuck in what looked like an eastern European prison uniform, which we had found together at the Salvation Army. It was the first time in 40 years that she put on a dress. She hated it but also knew that it was impossible to look away from, and looking at herself like that made her laugh. I don’t believe Joyce ever managed to watch the entire video uninterrupted because each time she tried she laughed so hard she cried. She loved to laugh, and at herself too.

Joyce told me that in the videos, which were physically demanding, she saw herself in a new light. She was amazed that she could do it. And she loved seeing her considerable presence on camera and in various states of transformation. I gave her a blond wig from one of the videos, which she took home and placed on anything and anyone she encountered, starting with her dog Max. From there it travelled from person to person. In 2003, she did an installation at Parker’s Box in Williamsburg (organized by Allyson Spellacy), filling the gallery windows with her photographs of people and dogs in wigs. Later, more wigs and dress-up toys entered the picture, figuratively and literally. She carried a camera wherever she went, and I can’t remember a single of our frequent get-togethers and dinners without wigs and crazy glasses that she pulled out of her seemingly bottomless bag. We all wore them and took snaps of each other. That was part of our language. She was already in her mid 60s when we made those videos. In her 70s, she was balancing high up on a cherry picker while wielding a brush the size of a broom, painting gestural murals all over the world. Even in bed at hospice she clasped a heavy golden pistol with her frail hands for an impromptu photoshoot and spoke through an amplified mic when her voice grew too weak. Inexhaustible.

Our friendship really began on a trip to Paris in 1995. Bill T. Jones, the choreographer and dancer, curated a small group of artists into a show on the outskirts of the city. We stayed in separate hotels, yet somehow spent all of our time together. We walked each night to her hotel through what we referred to as “shit alley.” I have a slight phobia of dog shit, while Joyce loved dogs and was paying no attention. I navigated the two of us through this minefield in semi darkness. She worked on a large charcoal mural, while I organized a performance. In the evening, when she stepped off the scaffold she was tired and covered in charcoal dust. She looked like one of her characters. On the metro people usually moved away from us. We always had plenty of space around us and became lifelong friends. 

The way she died, making art out of it, even managing to have irreverent fun with it, was something I couldn’t imagine. One of our final email exchanges consisted of her sending pics of hot guys. She was dying but that didn’t stop her from rhapsodizing about sexy bodies. When she got tired and wanted us to finally leave, we all knew it was probably the last time we’d see each other. She searched for Abba’s Dancing Queen(s) (!!!) and demanded we dance out of her room, shaking booties and all, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, but dancing.” I’m less afraid of death because of Joyce. That’s the most generous parting gift.

Photo courtesy Oliver Herring.

Peter Krashes

Joyce was a truly empathetic person. She was also transgressive and punk and completely opposed to convention. She was a disrupter and individualist who worked hard to liberate herself from constraints. In fact, she sometimes modeled herself as an unlikely warrior, Gloria as played by Gena Rowlands—a character that inspired her for decades.

She was generous, thoughtful, and vulnerable, but she was also unconcerned about the expectations of those around her. I think it was this dichotomy that was so appealing. Joyce always knew what was right for herself in each situation. She had a developed sense of what she should do, and could do.

I think this is why she was able—at real long-term financial risk—to bear down into her work for such a long period with support from a relatively small set within the art world. This also put her in a position to rise to each opportunity that opened up for her in the last decade of her life. She just simply magnified and amplified what she was doing before.

I don’t think I really realized how small Joyce was physically until I saw her in the hospice. Even before the wigs, sunglasses and fancy sneakers, she was a presence and a force. She filled up a room. And if she couldn’t reach something she got a cherry picker and went out and did it. How could such a physically small 70+ (no one was supposed to know her age!) woman make such bold and large strokes? By thinking things through strategically, and being fierce. The degree of clarity and confidence were the point. And as drips became more a part of her vocabulary, the openness to accident can be read all the more clearly as liberation and authority.

It isn’t possible really to separate Joyce from her work. When she worked on a painting, the enamel paint would splatter the wall, the floor, and the props around her. When drawing with charcoal, her hands and face would be black. Whatever material she used was under her fingernails. As she explained it, she needed to be one with her environment when she worked. She trashed white cubes instead of filling them. Even her hospice room ultimately became an extension of her work practice.

About a week before she died, we saw Joyce one last time in the hospice. She held my hand and rubbed my forearm as she described the experience in the hospice of losing a lifetime inhibition for being touched. She said she now had no problem with the nurses washing her at all. It was quintessential Joyce. She was offering herself, and leaving a generous and positive gift at the same time.

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.

Mike Rader

You couldn’t miss her silhouette and unmistakable shuffling gait cutting its usual path through the neighborhood of East Williamsburg. If I didn’t see her I could often smell her working. You could smell the enamel paint fumes wafting their way up and down the block. “Time to make the Donuts!” She would say working her way down the street, with her dog in tow: Max and then Charlie. The donut reference she was known for saying, was referring to the famous always-working 9-5 Dunkin Donuts baker, and to the gestural round shapes she repeated in her work.

When I first visited her studio, years back, I saw an artist inseparable from the walls, the floor, the paint, her art, her dog, and the neighborhood: a gestalt explosion of black and white. Joyce’s presence was a constant in the neighborhood and she was a maypole for many of us artists in Brooklyn. She provided the center and lit the fuse as we danced around. She encouraged with her direct language:

“Keep going!”
“What are you waiting for?”
“Just do it already!”
‘That’s great!”
Or even “That’s terrible!”

This short-hand way of expression also extended to her body language. You had to learn to read between the shifts and lines just like her work. At the heart of it was sharing, but you had to look past the tough layered surface.

A while back she gave me one of Joan Mitchell’s paint brushes (a mentor for her). She had a large stained coffee can filled with an array of Joan’s different size brushes. The gift was important to me, a baton of sorts. Not just because it was Joan’s, but because it passed through Joyce. She gave it to me with a declaration that I was “Ready.” It was generous of her.

You could say she never changed as her acclaim grew, but she did. She became more generous and supportive. She also grew to love Brooklyn after trying to escape it for many years. That neighborhood she grew to love will never be the same to me. It will always have a hole in it. But at least I feel a bit tethered to the maypole, though I’m sure that Joyce, the “Godmother” would tell me “Forgetaboutit!”

I will miss her always.

Photo: Elizabeth Ferry. Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York.

David Webster

To know the work of Joyce Pensato is to know Joyce. To love the work of Joyce is to love Joyce and make her part of your life.

I first met Joyce in the mid ’80s in Paris. I had seen these curious Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck paintings at the Gallerie Anne de Villepoix and had loved them. That evening I was recounting this to a table of dinner mates at a party in Paris and low and behold, it was Joyce who was sitting next to me. Instant friendship.

A few years later, Joyce actually worked in my sculpture studio at the Bastille that was shared by several artists. It was one of those wonderful turn of the century iron structure factory buildings with a 30 foot high ceiling and a glass roof. Impossible to heat in the winter, a little leaky in the summer and inhabited occasionally by a few mongoose-sized rats: but it was magical. It was an open floor-plan and each person had an area in the space. I was in the middle and Joyce in one of the near corners. From time to time I would see a cyclone of black charcoal dust approaching me. Once she got going, she worked with a ferocity and determination; attacking the paper, erasing, attacking again, leaving the paper defeated and hole-ridden by her force, but covered with exquisite gestural marks and a palimpsest of under-drawing.

To that point, Joyce had worked almost exclusively in black and white enamel, but in Paris she decided to experiment with silver spray paint as a background base for her painting. Arriving first at the studio one day, she had armed herself with several cans of French spray paint. The operative word here being French: a French system for opening the container (the French are extremely talented at doing things in a way that exists nowhere else in the world). The instructions were in French which was something unfathomable to Joyce. Having failed at manually opening the can she had decided that she needed some sort of tool to force the cap off, and not far away was my tranquil island with its table of neatly arranged tools. Unfortunately, on the table was also a sculpture piece that I had just finished and sold: a glass case of twelve Coca Cola bottles that had been elegantly sand blasted, alluding to centuries of wear and past civilizations. Joyce pries open the can with a screw driver and to her astonishment she creates a volcano of nonstop paint—this time the cyclone was silver! It was at this very point that I walked in hearing a yelp then laughter. The first thing she said to me was “I thought that I had been blinded but then I took my glasses off!” She was covered head to toe in silver paint. Then, I noticed to my horror, so was my glass sculpture. After a slight aneurysm, I saw that paint thinner easily removed the paint from the glass and Joyce. We laughed and laughed about this for the 30 years of our wonderful friendship.

Left to right: Anne Ferrer, Holly Zausner, Joyce Pensato, Will Corwin. Photo courtesy Will Corwin.

Holly Zausner

I first met Joyce Pensato in 1973 when we were both students at the New York Studio School. After I introduced myself, she said, “Zausner, did your father do a radio commercial where he was interviewing a cow on a mountain top about milk for his cheese company?” That was my first interaction with Joyce. It was the beginning of a 40-year friendship.

While I spent only about a year and a half at the school, Joyce remained there for 11 years. After leaving the school, Joyce spent many years going back and forth between New York and Paris, where she lived, worked, and exhibited. Like Joyce, I divided my time between New York and Europe, but in my case it was Berlin, where I have lived and worked on and off for the past 22 years. Joyce believed we both had made a mistake by doing this, though I was not completely convinced, since we both managed to achieve some success in Europe.

When we were both in New York City, and even sometimes when we were traveling, we got in the habit of calling each other on the phone every morning. She would have to turn off the radio from listening to Howard Stern and I would turn off NPR.

Life was not always easy for Joyce. She had to borrow money from her brother every month to buy materials and for living expenses. She always promised him she was on the verge of making it big and would pay him back. Her friends helped as well. Mercedes Matter, Christopher Wool, Ira Wool, Charline von Heyl—they were her “family.”

Joyce worked every day in her huge decaying dancehall studio, which had no heat or bathroom. When I visited her old studio there was so much paint on the floor my shoes would stick to it, and as I walked to the L train, my painted footsteps would be left on the sidewalk. I remember how she would put a piece of cardboard on the wall with the cartoon figure she would paint from. When I looked at her paintings and drawings, for me they embodied her interior emotional states. Mickey Mouse in particular almost seemed to be a self-portrait, physically and emotionally. 

When Friedrich Petzel took her on as an artist, for the first time she was financially stable and was able to work without limits in her studio. She did exhibitions nationally and internationally, which was her dream. That was the turning point in her life. She had a close professional and personal relationship with Friedrich, who guided her and supported her work. Sam Tsao, Friedrich’s partner at the gallery, not only worked with her but also became a close personal friend. The other person who was invaluable was her assistant Elizabeth Ferry, who is also an artist. Together they formed a truly amazing triad of support and love. Joyce went on to have very close relationships with other great galleries: Lisson, Corbett vs Dempsey, and Grice Bench. In this way, her family expanded and so did her reputation as a great artist. Some of her exhibitions consisted of her making enormous on-site wall drawings and paintings that loomed over the viewer. These were not only masterfully done but had a complex psychological impact. The paint fumes and dust sometimes would drive people crazy during the process, but she never stopped. She would send me daily images of them in progress.

Now that she was successful, she was able to live “the life”—shopping at exclusive stores, staying at the best hotels and eating in the best restaurants, a huge difference from the Goodwill clothing she had worn for so many years. I remember an interview she did once before she became famous, in which she was asked to name her favorite food, and she responded, hilariously, “processed.” She also became enamored of celebrity culture. With her assistant, Elizabeth, they created humorous satirical characters through costumes and acting out for photographs and videos which were posted on Instagram. Joyce had a following of almost 30,000. Maybe these satirical personalities were not so far away from her painted cartoon characters.

Joyce had this amazing ability to turn something negative into something positive. She never stayed depressed, no matter what happened to her. The day her mother died, that night she went to openings. When she lost her beloved dancehall studio, for her second exhibition at the Petzel gallery, she brought in parts of the floor, a wall, toys and detritus that were all paint splattered from decades of her work, as an installation that was surrounded by her paintings. The installation was brilliant! 

I happened to visit her in the hospital on the day that she received the news that her cancer was inoperable. This was one of the few times I saw her get angry, as she described how the doctor she called “Dr. Death” told her there was no hope of beating her cancer. But as usual, she transformed this terrible news into something positive. With the help of Elizabeth Ferry and Sam Tsao, she turned her room at the hospice into one of her great installations of toys and her work. Her room became a nightclub where friends from all over came to visit her. No tears were allowed. She wanted a big party and she had it for weeks. Friedrich and Sam helped her set up a Foundation, plan the Memorial after she died, and future exhibitions. Joyce celebrated life and had an amazing spirit right up until the very end. 

During our daily morning talks after we had discussed everything possible, Joyce would say “Is that it?” And sadly that is it.

Installation view: Joyce Pensato: Batman Returns, Petzel, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York. Photo: Larry Lamay.

Elizabeth Ferry

Sicilian Black Bleach Blonde Ab Fab
Meatballs Champagne
DeKooning Reality TV Dogs Friends
London France Cooper Park
Latenight Deli Venice Valet
Brooklyn Girl Ocean View 
Flea Markets Big Cigars 
DeNiro LA 
The Studio Cassius Clay 
Charcoal Red Sauce 
Queen Of Drips

Fucked Up Friends Club
Oprah Fellini Felix Ensor McCarthy Rocco The Italian Porn Star
Good Chairs
Golden Guns
Good Wigs Good Bad Wigs
Big Brushes Big Ang
Long Lunches
Time To Make The Meatballs

Break It Down Peel It Off One Shot Muhammad Ali I Killed Kenny Shoe Heaven
The Obama Family The Wack Pack
Brown’s High Tea German Expressionism
Fuck Up A Clean Space
The Eraser

Do I Walk As Slow As They Do?
Palm Trees Convertibles
You Need A Face Tat Tickle Me Elmo
Gucci Show Tunes Electric Sanders
Charcoal Queen
Queen Of Staples
No Artsy Fartsy
No Pants

You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

Boom Boom Room Ba Ba Booey

Barneys Maxfields Viceroy Poolside
Batman Lincoln Sly Stallone
Gauguin Groucho Gloria
Hairless Wrestlers Outsider Art
Martinis at Dukes Hot Dog On A Stick
Married To The Mob
The Sopranos
Great Shades

Chicago Rome Charlie The Laundromat
Yankees Blondie Clowns Joan Mitchell
Throw More Paint More Backcomb
The City The Godmother The Fizz

The Fizz Is Fizzing


Sam Tsao

Joyce Pensato, Holy Blackout Batman, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Petzel, New York.

I first met Joyce in the early 1990s when she made a wall drawing for a group exhibition at Thread Waxing Space. She had this great ability of being shy and captivating at once. She was on the smaller side but gave off the energy of a rock star–all in black, messy, bigger than life. She seemed to not understand where the wall ended on either side, and I am quite certain she would have kept drawing further had the curator not reminded her exactly what area he had designated. There was charcoal everywhere. That was Joyce. Incidentally, I learned much later that she knew exactly what space she had been allotted; she just wished to push those limits because “it would look better.” That was Joyce, too.

Joyce and my paths crossed much later in 2007 when Friedrich Petzel asked her to join his gallery. On the day of my first studio visit, Joyce called me that morning to say that since it was raining she would need to reschedule. Raining? Did inclement weather prevent her from getting to her studio? I learned that the holes in the ceiling allow it to rain in the studio and so it was a mess to have any visitors since she needed to move canvases and drawings around to protect them. That this atmospheric setback was a part of her day-to-day life was intriguing to me. Surely, any other artist would look for a new studio? No, she was comfortable making work just where she was. What’s a little rain or snow? That was Joyce.

And now in 2019 after her passing in June, I keep finding myself thinking about her last weeks. How she handled herself in death was how she handled herself in life: unafraid. This was a person whose mother thought the best that she could make of herself was to become a “secretary” and yet held vigorously onto the idea from her father that art was a necessity in the world, that to make art was even noble, that art elevated people’s lives. She clearly realized those dreams with gallery and museum exhibitions worldwide. Her success came a bit later in her life, and in 2014 she told me her motto: Later Is Now. I suppose with all the rain in her studio in all those years that she had had enough rainy days. There was no need to wait to live fully. But I think she had already been doing that for a long time, well before the motto. Probably as soon as she decided to become an artist. That was Joyce.


Mike Ballou, Andrea Belag, Sherry Bittle, Will Corwin, Oliver Herring, Peter Krashes, Mike Rader, David Webster, and Holly Zausner are all artists who live in New York City. Elizabeth Ferry is also an artist who lives in New York City, and she was Joyce’s assistant too. Sam Tsao represents Joyce at Petzel Gallery.


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JUL-AUG 2019

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