|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following, written by curator Douglas Dreishpoon, is excerpts from wall texts for the Essenhigh solo exhibition, American Landscapes," 1999, at the
Albright Knox Museum. |
Recent Paintings by Inka Essenhigh
figures devoid of limbs and heads tumble across vast expenses. Dramatic
actors engulfed by radiant space, they writhe and spin, contort and
extend, propelled by invisible forces and adorned by minimal props.
These are strange worlds, where nothing seems familiar and yet a
palpable pathos permeates the chaos dystopian microcosms out of joint.
Peering into these airless netherworlds, perplexed and baffled, we
search for recognizable cues, all the while wondering what
circumstances led to their creation.
The perfected design of
an Essenhigh painting, so seemingly resolved in every detail, belies
the spontaneity that went into its creation. Her works are deceptive in
this respect. Products of a process that combines drawing and painting
with a lot of sanding, most pictures begin as a monochromatic color
blood red, turquoise blue, light green, khaki gray which provides the
ground for subsequent layers of rapid drying enamel-based oil paint.
has been the driving force behind the work since 1996. An image may go
through multiple revisions, where passages are sanded out or deleted
with turpentine, but through linear articulation it's finally brought
into focus. That the artist refers to her canvases as "giant drawings"
confirms the primacy of draughtsmanship in her process.
discussions of Essenhigh's work gravitate to her conception of the
figure, because it's such a prominent aspect of her images. Conceived
against an otherwise neutral ground, figural ensembles are the grist of
her compositions. Aptly described by one writer as "humanoid
deformations," "cyborg-mutations," and "polymorphic droids,"
Essenhigh's race of cybernetic creatures provides a logical point of
access to the work.
The bodies she creates, part human-part
machine, display a variety of types grotesque and startling but also
poignant and, at times, poetic. Tumbling toward the vortex of a
tsunami-like wave in Deluge, they appear submissive and docile;
proliferating like cloned bridesmaids on the extended limbs of a fecund
Venus in The Marriage, they seem agitated and engaged. Their
constitution varies from emaciated and skeletal to robust and beefy.
Some appear in a decrepit state, prostrate and crawling toward an
imaginary fountain of youth, or, lying unhinged amidst rows of phallic
corn, distorted beyond recognition; others, conceived heroically as
guardians of a desolate suburban mall, navigate with nimble poise.
Against uninflected backgrounds, they float in a time-warped world
whose only temporal cues are an oversized running sneaker on the fleshy
foot of a disappearing Apollo, a space shoe on one of the faceless
female chorus in the Adoration, the white, frilly tuxedo shirt adorning
the mechanistic groom in The Marriage, the suspended pencil and
fluttering book in Explosion, and the pop-top beer cans and comb in the
lower sector of Goody. Issuing from darker corridors inside the mind,
Essenhigh's personages share an art-historical kinship with Arp's
earliest biomorphs at the same time they cross over into another,
virtual dimension. More the by-product of cybernetic animation than
cellular microscopy, Essenhigh's atomized beings take their place,
among other surreal anatomies cast by Tanguy, Matta, and Bacon, in what
could be considered a time-honored tradition of abstract figuration.
figures are almost always faceless. Many lack heads. On one level, it's
another way for the artist to eliminate what she considers superfluous
elements from a composition. But her deletions have poignant cultural
and psychological implications as well. "Faces add baggage," the artist
admits, "especially cartoon faces, which, like a stylized tattoo, can
reveal a lot about yourself your education, cultural attitudes,
personal aesthetics and so on. Delineated faces bring unnecessary
information to the image and prevent abstraction." Figures without
heads also signify the absence of consciousness and the potential
infiltration of artificial intelligence. Each picture begins, at least
in the artist's mind, as a narrative. Complex thoughts distilled to
simple scenes foster suggestive images that exist in the gap between
abstraction and representation.
Abstraction warps the obvious,
which is why many artists continue to use it as a way of masking
aspects of their work. In spite of their seemingly straight-forward
images, Essenhigh's paintings remain elusive. Even her titles, though
helpful as cues, don't decode the image, whose spatial dynamics further
confound accessibility. Until recently, when she began to build more
than one color into her backgrounds, most images were conceived on a
monochromatic skin analogous to the neutral cell of a comic book story
board or the cathode illuminated monitor of a video screen which
mirrored an imaginary universe. The space of an Essenhigh painting is
still simultaneously finite and boundless the equivalent of a
cosmological void, a pictorial quagmire into which figures disappear or
from which they emerge. These are helter-skelter, madcap worlds, where
fragmentation and dissolution displace Euclidean order and the only
buffer to chaos is the arbitrary dimensions of the canvas.
Landscapes" doesn't immediately spring to mind as a thematic handle
befitting these works. And yet, on some level, apart from obvious
references to Mid-western cornfields or suburban malls, it seems
appropriate, as we ponder the future of advanced technology, especially
its effect on our perception of ourselves and our environment.
Essenhigh's terrains, with their retinal-searing colors, polymer skin,
and mutant tribe of survivors, forecast an ominous and inhospitable
place devoid of light and atmosphere, deprived of seasonal changes, and
stripped of local detail. Hers are entropic worlds ruled by a few
benign but mostly violent forces. Though foreign to us, they could be
seen as subconscious frontiers where the artist's subjective impulses
have free reign. In the end, it doesn't matter whether or not we
empathize with these worlds. What does are their philosophical
implications humanity's fate at the millennial cusp.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following is from www.bombsite.com/essenhigh/essenhigh.html |
"Inka Essenhigh" by Ross Bleckner
I see a new artist who is surprising because she brings certain images
and qualities to painting. Inka Essenhigh's images span a range from
funky and cartoony to elegant, like science fiction rendered into Ming
Dynasty decoration, Chinoise screens or lacquered bowls. They seem
effortless (although I know they're not), dense and seamless. They have
a certain airlessness. I asked Inka if she had any of these things in
mind when she worked.
Inka Essenhigh: "Yes. Around 1996 I wanted
to clean things up. I wanted my paintings to seem more
something that was made by Mattel. I thought this way of working
be exciting. I prefer drawing rather than painting. I like
to have fun
with my work, and I wanted to do what I was good at. It was the
paint that allowed me to get to my essence (the drawing). I think
painting as close to fresco. I'm good at breaking things down to
and I'm good at drawing. I'm not really interested in futzing
paint on the surface to make a 3-D effect. The enamel, which is called
'One Shot', makes the painting more Pop. It freed me to do
paintings'. In other words, to find stupid reasons to apply
then subject matter became a real problem. Let me backtrack for a
minute: I was a realistic painter but found myself with nothing
paint so I became an Abstract Expressionist. Once I got rid of
painterliness and lightened the palette, got rid of all the messy
problems of dealing with the weight of art history, then I was free to
make dumb things. I could paint whatever came into my head.
seemed light I gave myself the freedom to do whatever I wanted.
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Born in Belfonte, Pennsylvania, Inka Essenhigh is a New York City based artist who attended the Columbus College of Art and Design in 1991 in Columbus, Ohio, and then attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She works from a studio in the Lower East Side of New York City, and most of her canvases are large scale.|
She emphasizes her love of drawing and her ongoing interest in realistic depiction of objects and figures. Landscape painting holds no fascination for her.
Essenhigh's work has gone through various stylistic phases, and she has changed her primary medium from enamel to oil. In her student days in New York City and early in her career, she did Abstract Expressionism because it seemed the thing to do. However, with her underlying commitment to drawing and her desire to explore of lines and shapes and her years of making a living as a graphic artist and fabric designer, she has turned to Surrealism. Her paintings, now done in oil with more muted coloration, focus on human figures, recognizable by forms but mysterious in their exaggerated features, odd juxtapositions and circumstances that stretch the imagination.
Lonnie Pierson Dunbier, Studio visit to the artist, 11/09/2005
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