19 May – 24 June 2017
LISSON GALLERY, 67 Lisson Street, London
While making the rounds of London’s art venues last June, skulking down back streets and dark underpasses, cruising through museums, galleries and pop ups, I wondered “Is it possible to exhaust this city’s mammoth store of artwork?” It is a bleak possibility – but then again, if there really are charcoal dust fairies, they will never let that happen.
I was so completely beside myself after learning of the appearance of Mickey, Homer, and Batman, my childhood kin, that a pilgrimage to the Lisson Gallery for the family reunion immediately took shape. Located near the Paddington Tube Station, the gallery is a pioneer not only in its long history of developing contemporary art but also for its lonely choice of location. It can be a bit confusing to find, but if you don’t do anything other than turn right out of the tube station, walk under a bridge with some lovely street art, and turn right on Bell Street, you will come upon a large “Built Up On” installation. The galleries are on both sides of the street.
My extremely short and almost negligent bio of the Lisson is that the gallery was established in 1967 by Nicholas Logsdail. It boasts of being the most influential and longest-running international contemporary art gallery in the world, and it currently supports and develops the work of 52 artists. Their praise-worthy lineup of international luminaries includes the likes of Sol LeWitt, Anish Kapoor, Julian Opie, and Ai Weiwei.
The golden hour to visit any high end art gallery is a Tuesday morning, nano seconds after the “We’re Open” sign appears. Nothing compares with the pleasure of touring a well hung show in a huge un-peopled space, just after the staffs’coffees have cooled and other art enthusiasts are either still in bed, or at work drumming up enough dosh to pay for walls big enough to support Homer’s head or a rollicking gang of golden Donald Ducks.
This “FORGETTABOUT IT” show was Joyce Pensato’s second exhibit at the Lisson Gallery, and it was completely magical, inventive, technically astute, explorative – and also extremely funny. The act of manipulated seeing by Joyce’s images was a fine example of ‘the astute’ chiding ‘the frivolous’. Her work is deceptively complex and engaging and panders to my absolutely favorite thing about many shows – the ability to elicit a wholehearted laugh. It is a reaction absolutely without derision. It speaks to the successful relate-ability to the work – the intentional ‘you have got to be kidding me’ factor. And you, the viewer, are welcomed to the insider joke.
Just a few meters before reaching the Lisson Street entry, Homer Simpson’s enormous head seemed to shout at me through the gallery glass. His conspiratorial grin completely drew me in as though we were about to commiserate on how perplexingly ludicrous it was for him to be hanging on a wall. After entering the gallery it became impossible to pick a favourite from her Four Donalds, Rhumba Mickey, Here’s Mickey, Homer in the Hood, You Don’t Say versions 1 & 2, and Let’s Blow this Joint 1-6 versions.
The beautifully written promotional material accurately defined her work as falling between “the illustrative figuration of Pop Art and the gestural physicality of Abstract Expressionism.” My quick take is that the subject matter of her pieces mines an undercurrent of familiarity and anxiety. They are a bold mix of the unique comic characters that babysat us. These characters became our friends, and this was where our young minds first engaged with divisive characters, the concept of nine-lives, human foibles and total silliness. We witnessed bad judgement and often yelled at the screen in order to thwart the villains and save the dim-witted. It was here that we were convinced that good would rule the day.
Beyond the narrative, Pensato’s techniques are an effervescent testament to a highly charged interior life. Using either paper or linen supports, she blasts their surfaces with bold gestural lines, successive layers of charcoal, spatterings, erasures, industrial-grade enamel paint, coloured pastels, and silver and gold highlights.
A highly incomplete list of Joyce’s successes include several solo exhibitions in Austria, Chicago, Atlanta, Santa Monica and St. Louis as well as participation in group shows that include leading museums in New York, San Francisco and Rome. Her work is held in the permanent collections of such prestigious museums as the San Francisco and New York MoMAs, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
So if it is a Tuesday and you have realized a huge bonus, it might be the time to invite one of the Ducks home. As a prudent belt-and-suspenders type investor, you might also consider some very high-end archival conservation and framing, and to further hedge your bets, get the Lisson Gallery fairy to sprinkle her dust upon you.