Inka Essenhigh

Inka Essenhigh
06.01.2019 — 08.24.2019

Kavi Gupta is pleased to present its first solo exhibition of original work by Inka Essenhigh.

Inka Essenhigh (b. 1969, Pennsylvania, US) is renowned for her dreamlike paintings, which translate her encounters with, and intuitions about, contemporary society into haunting, playful, sometimes disturbing visual scenes. 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. The lush, mysterious images she creates arise from a diverse range of influences, including High Renaissance painting, 19th Century French cabaret, and the whimsy and instinct of childhood imagination.

Inka Essenhigh 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) seize 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 inter-twine 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.

Complex and always enchanting, her work explores contemporary culture and nature in ways that evoke in viewers something magical.

Her site-specific Stairwell wall drawing is on view at the Drawing Center in New York through June 2019. She earned her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York (1994). Recent exhibitions include Inka Essenhigh: a fine line, at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, and exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, the 2nd Berlin Biennale in Berlin Germany, and the Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. Work by Essenhigh is included in the collections of the Tate London, the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art / P.S.1, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Seattle Art Museums, among others. -KGG