I'm always on the lookout for artists who are "big" but whose work is stupid and weird and lovely, intelligent without having to try too hard, but also completely comfortable with the boundlessness of not being smart. I hit the jackpot with Joyce Pensato. She's been around for over 30 years, but recently her work has been getting attention all over the place, chiefly for her show last year at the Friedrich Petzel Gallery in NYC titled "Batman Returns," pictured above.
Her strategy and practice have a decidedly outsider-art smell and shimmer: take what's out there and internalize it in an odd, festered, beautiful manner, then externalize what's been internalized obsessively through a variety of means. Pensato does this by finding incredible shit at thrift-stores (toys, figurines, what have you), bringing the objects back to her studio, and then molesting them artistically. The paintings are like Phillip Guston smashing into Franz Kline, all abstract-expressionist and dumb as hell, parodies and homilies simultaneously. Someone left the cake out in the rain, so to speak. The sumptuous apocalypse of her work is like a queen letting us in on the torture she provides to her subjects. I love the crap in the center of the gallery too: Mike Kelley (RIP) eat your heart out. There's a feeling here of love lost and rediscovered somehow in the ashes after that trailer in Pink Flamingos goes up in flames. It's poetic but also, as I said previously, completely and delightfully stupid.
Pensato has a big show opening at the Santa Monica Museum of Art soon. I would love to go see it and get enraptured. I think her work is another reason why we need to abandon the outsider/insider split for good. I'm thinking of Judith Scott stealing people's car-keys and cocooning them as I look at Pensato's stuff, as well as Mose Tolliver and Thornton Dial paintings and assemblages. I'm thinking of Robert Rauschenberg and Edward Keinholz as well. The earned rawness of her style, the messiness taking over and persuading you it's all on purpose is a direct offshoot not just of expressionism and Pop, but outsider-art's propensity to aestheticize experience and biography while also burying the need to explain. In other words, if you looked at Pensato's crazy-assed work you might think it's done by anybody with a need to explicate (without explaining anything) what's been bothering them for years and years.