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Indepth Arts News:

"Inka Essenhigh: Recent Paintings"
2003-12-03 until 2004-02-15
Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami
North Miami, FL, USA

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, presents Inka Essenhigh: Recent Paintings from December 3, 2003 through Feburary 15, 2004. This exhibition focuses on Essenhigh’s oil paintings of fantastic figures in mysterious space. The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami and curated by MOCA Director and Chief Curator Bonnie Clearwater. Inka Essenhigh received recognition at the onset of her career in the mid-1990s, when photo-based art dominated the art world, and Essenhigh was painting graphic paintings using enamel paint.

Her images were an amazing cast of hybrid creatures that appear flat and cartoon-like against the shiny, neutral background. Essenhigh made news because she and a few other New York artists were heralded as part of a new revitalization of painting. In early 2001, Essenhigh switched from enamel to oil paint with dramatic results. Essenhigh remarks, "You change your medium and you just get out more ideas, your brush goes in a different direction." With her move to oil paints, her work moved from the two-dimensional patterns of the enamel paintings to figures realized as fully three-dimensional beings that exist in deep space. These figures look more life-like with real personalities than the more artificial looking characters of the enamel paintings.

The more clearly defined the figures become, the more suggestive they are of narrative. Her images suggest themes rather than specific stories. Suburban America is one of the unifying themes of her work.

Having grown up in suburban Columbus, Ohio, she is fascinated by the rituals and pastimes of the American heartland and the designs of suburban living. Her works show that even the generic suburb created for a middle class demographic can become strangely individualized.

The emotional tone of her recent oil paintings is closer to real life than her enamel paintings. Things drip and are lopsided instead of organized symmetrically. Humor is a by-product of this realism. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the mode of Essenhigh’s paintings became increasingly apocalyptic. War and anxiety weigh down works such as War Drawings, 2003 and Airport Painting, 2003. Essenhigh paints, but drawing is essential to her work. Line and especially swooshing arabesques provide the unifying design of her paintings. In the enamel paintings, the contour is solid and continuous, lines silhouette the figures and define summary details on the bodies and their attributes. Her works since 2002 seem to have been drawn with greater speed than in her enamel paintings. The contour, no longer continuous, is repetitive and brushy, conveying a sense of movement in time.

This exhibition includes 16 oil paintings created since 2001, and 15 drawings. It is accompanied by a 64-page full-color catalog with essay by Bonnie Clearwater.

Inka Essenhigh: Recent Paintings is sponsored by Neuberger Berman Foundation. Additional support provided by Jacquelyn and Bruce Brown, Jeanne and Michael Klein, and Carolee and Nathan Reiber. Accommodations provided by Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort.

Inka Essenhigh
Romantic Painting, 2002
Oil on panel
52 x 64 in
Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York and
Victoria Miro Gallery, London.

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