Inka Essenhigh (b. 1969, USA) is renowned for her dreamlike paintings, which translate her encounters with, and intuitions about contemporary society into haunting, playful, sometimes disturbing visual scenes. Her most recent series, titled Uchronia, envisages a hypothetical, idyllic future for the inhabitants of Earth.Read More
Essenhigh is part of a generation of artists that includes Rachel Feinstein, Lisa Yuskavage and Cecily Brown, that rose to prominence in 1990s New York as leaders in the contemporary return to figuration.
Essenhigh employs a mix of automatism, imagination and 'inner vision' to translate the visible world into arabesque enamel paintings that reveal the unseen worlds of energy, feeling and mystery that lurk just beyond everyday life. She paints landscapes from her imagination into which the eyes and minds of viewers might temporarily abscond. Employing a mix of narration, symbolism and mystery, her paintings explore what about nature can be known and what lurks beyond our perception.
Says Essenhigh, 'The unknown comes from the painting process, putting brush to canvas. I do have an agenda, and a world I want to create. I'm not interested in meaninglessness. But I am looking for the feeling that the images are coming to me.'
Essenhigh sometimes engages existing myths, fairy tales and fables, and sometimes invents her own. Inspired by the eponymous Greek myth, Daphne and Apollo (2012) seizes the climatic, moonlit scene when the nymph Daphne, pursued by an aroused Apollo, is transformed into a tree after a desperate appeal to her father, the river god Peneus. Summer Landscape (2013) meanwhile has new stories to tell as magical sprites intertwine chameleon-like with plants and vines along an undulating, luminescent horizon. Segmented into three panels and painted on paper, its subject matter and golden hues bring to mind perhaps a 16th century Byōbu, ethereally placing the narrative simultaneously in the past and present.
Work by Essenhigh is in the collections of the Tate, the Denver Art Museum, MOMA / P.S.1, San Francisco MOMA, the Seattle Art Museums, and many others.
Text courtesy Kavi Gupta.
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