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Indepth Arts News:

"Inka Essenhigh: Large Scale Paintings and Intricate Drawings"
2003-04-05 until 2003-05-24
Fruitmarket Gallery
Edinburgh, , UK United Kingdom

The large scale paintings and intricate drawings of American artist Inka Essenhigh, lauded by American critics for trailblazing the current painting revival, are the subject of a major exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery from 5 April. New York-based Essenhigh paints enigmatic worlds in which cartoon action figures are cast alongside the demi-monde in roles of time honoured human concerns reflecting patriotism, religion, competitiveness and heroism within futuristic yet neutral landscapes.

The work unites and scatters influences in equal measure, such as Italian Renaissance iconography, Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, Persian miniatures and contemporary mythologies.

The exhibition comprises nine large-scale paintings that demonstrate the artist‚s evolution in the past two years across the change from enamel-based paints to more recent oils, and the UK premiere of 13 drawings, illustrating the Bosch-like controlled impetus to Essenhigh's larger other-worldly scapes.

Both mediums reveal a fantastic range of influences from Dali to Disney with flourishes of the traditional Western comic strip and cell animation to Japanese 'manga' animation, affording an ambiguity of the playful and sinister.

Essenhigh, 33, studied at the School of Visual Arts, New York, but attributes an early stint designing boxer short fabric for US department store Sears as a cornerstone to her works‚ style., describing the restrictive four-colour repeat pattern process as a confidence builder "to choose how my work should look".

The exhibition works are altogether vivid, humorous, dynamic, surreal, apocalyptic and prophetic. Essenhigh describes her paintings as 'mimicking the future‚ where the central event is Ś a physical representation of my own energy or a story.

"The ratio of grand sweeping things to little balled-up things is based on how I feel that day or month. Sometimes it's comic: a large movement having a small effect. Picture Bugs Bunny sneaking up on something: ominous, operatic music alternating with low, murmuring tip toe musicThis is the sort of language I play with: formal, like Bauhaus or Baroque design formulas."*

Essenhigh's figures are scarcely individualised, hybrids existing somewhere between their bodies and their surroundings and underscoring interchangeability: the cast of her paintings appear always on the verge of becoming something else, splayed-out viscera within a ballet of ordinary life situations - pursuing the promise of beauty and pleasure from going shopping, to the gym or getting a tan.

"I paint people doing things. People in my paintings are defined by what they do. Shoppers shop. Dancers dance. Birds fly. Victims scream. The way they scream of fly or dance is shown by abstracting their bodies into gestures commonly used in cartooning . I don't paint about right and wrong; the inhabitants of my paintings just do what they do." Inka Essenhigh August 2002 (excerpt article by David Hunt, Flash Art, October 2000)

Essenhigh has shown in Hybrids, International Contemporary Painting at The Tate Gallery, Liverpool, in the 2nd Berlin Biennale, 2001, the first Ghent Quadrennial - Casino 2001 at the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuelle Kunst and Greater New York at P.S.1, New York. Her work is included in the collections of the Tate Gallery, The Seattle Art Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Albright Knox Gallery and The Museum of Modern Art New York.

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