Joyce Pensato - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, November 28, 2021 | Phillips
  • “I really wanted to make the drawings paintings—it just made sense to me. I like being messy and I love throwing paint around and fucking it all up. But I also like the structure drawing provides.” — Joyce Pensato


    The artist in her studio


    Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Joyce Pensato served as a reminder that not all art involving pop imagery needed to fall under the same category as the likes of Andy Warhol. For more than three decades Pensato conjured up demonic black and white enamel paintings of iconic cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the Simpsons. Combining the gesturalism of action painting, the painterliness of Abstract Expressionism, the blatancy of Pop, and the unruliness of graffiti, Pensato wrenched the cartoon away from its traditional moorings, honouring the visceral over the clinical, and the truth over gloss.


    Known for her flamboyance and commanding presence, Pensato worked in a studio resembling the aftermath of a pop culture eruption, littered with toys and comic books, posters and battered plush toys plucked from the dumpster. Bart Simpson, off-screen and in the hands of Pensato, is no more than another American victim marred and sullied by the challenges of the raw, real world. As such, Pensato’s layered compositions, weighted by thick black outlines and their trickling vulnerabilities, reflect the anxiety and uncertainty of idealised America. The erasures and rips in the canvas betray a working style which is destructive, subtractive, but also addictive as Pensato breathes a new, albeit dystopian, energy into her subjects. 



    Joyce Pensato, Donald, 1997
    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong for $1,500,000, November 2019
    © Joyce Pensato


    Adopting the language of ‘high’ art, Pensato addressed and transformed the inherent flatness of two-dimensional animation, emphasising their plasticity as they are mutilated and reduced to their very essence, a scrambled collection of lines, dashes, smears. As she wipes off their polished surfaces, gouging into the canvas and discarding the bright yellows and reds and greens, concealed dysfunction is revealed. The familiar cartoons become the uncanny reflection of a flawed and marginalised existence – revealing that the squeaky-clean American dream is perhaps not so.



    Joyce Pensato, Double Mickey, 2003
    Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York 
    © Joyce Pensato


    Nonetheless the iconic images used maintain the recognisability of the works, such that the surface is not simply a tattered mayhem, but the butchered remains of beloved characters. The spectral presences are both intact and precarious, teetering on the edge of dissolution as the violent mayhem of their cartoon lives are made incarnate in the form of scars and blemishes on painted flesh. 


    Disney’s Mickey Mouse was one of the first subjects tackled by Pensato in her career, as early as 1991 when she was supposed to have her first solo show in the East Village. The cancellation forced her to assess her artistic priorities, and she abandoned colourful, Abstract Expressionist landscapes in favour of focusing on simple, black-and-white graphic charcoal drawings that she would make into paintings. Untitled (1992), one of the first Mickey paintings by Pensato, featured in the Whitney Museum’s 2017 survey of image-making in downtown New York, ‘Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s’. She explained: “The painting was based on a rubber Mickey Mouse head someone gave me—such an unhappy-looking guy—found in a garbage dump. It looked like something out of Edvard Munch, really deep and brooding.” i The motif would become emblematic of Pensato and her life’s work, and she would also choose Mickey as the subject of her first editioned sculpture in collaboration with Case Studyo in 2019 – Snowball Mickey.



    Joyce Pensato, Untitled, 1992
    Exhibited in Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s 
    at the Whitney Museum, New York in 2017
    © Joyce Pensato


    Joyce Pensato, who passed away in 2019, has been exhibited widely at institutions worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Kunstraum Innsbruck; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Santa Monica Museum of Art; Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and many more. Pensato’s works are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Dallas Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; among others. In 2013 she received the Robert de Niro Sr. Prize, the Award of Merit Medal for Painting from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2012, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award in 1997, as well as the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996.


    iJoyce Pensato, quoted in ‘Joyce Pensato talks about art, life, and Mickey Mouse’, Artforum, 24 January 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago
      Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Untitled (Mickey)

signed, titled and dated 'Joyce Pensato 1995 "Untitled Mickey"' on the stretcher
charcoal and enamel on canvas
152.4 x 137.1 cm. (60 x 53 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1995.

Full Cataloguing

HK$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for HK$882,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2021