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December 11, 2002
Inka Essenhigh @ 303

Some of the work in Miami was really spectacular, some was just a hint to what the artist shown really has to offer. When visiting Victoria Miro Gallery near the entrance of the fair, I really liked (among many other works shown by this fantastic London gallery) a little square painting by Inka Essenhigh, called “Sunbathers” (1998, Oil and Enamel on Canvas 127cmx127cm). The paint layer was so perfect throughout the piece almost as if applied by a machine. The painting was mainly a large area of one color with a few strangely complex figures placed in a triangle, connected with something that looked like a mixture of hair flowing in the wind and pulled apart chewing gum. The characters looked as if taken from a sadomasochistic phantasy, but it was difficult to say that for certain because each one of them seemed to be assembled of individual elements only available in this combination on this particular painting. The piece seemed to whisper and shout at the same time. All of the elements frozen in space yet ready for action. Wild stuff.
I later discovered that Inka Essenhigh had a large show at Victoria Miro in London, but that it closed on december 7th. I wonder if there is a catalogue. There probably is. Victoria Miro is as serious as Galleries can get.
Actually, I did not need to travel to London to see more Essenhigh work. 303 gallery on 525 W 22nd street currently shows eight truly spectacular paintings by the 32 year old artist. I had to see it, I had to go.
The paintings are fantastic. Inka now uses oil paint on panel, which lets her give more modulation to color and create spaces with more dimension than the incredibly perfect enamel work used before.
The paintings tell stories of intimate dramas of every day life, but in a way that turns them into events of gigantic proportions. Her visual language is somewhere between finest calligraphy, comics, surreal fantasies, graffiti bombs and hiroshige woodprints. The paintings seem to tell stories from a universe where dimensions shift and grow and float, where everything melts into incredibly intricate and elegant and yet violent constellations. She uses color very intelligently creating islands of color on all encompassing sky-like landscapes. These islands of color also often happen to be the main characters of her stories which even though barely recognisable because built out of many elements, somehow let the viewer experience the work as a set of episodes, variations, new angles. When stepping back from the paintings, the viewer can then somehow combine the pieces back into a complete, stunning composition.
One of my favorites in the positive section of the show was probably Romantic Painting (2002, oil on panel, 52 x 64 inches), two lovers embraced in a kiss which is not only performed with their mouths but truly directly from brain to brain. Their bodies entangled in an incredibly dynamic dance. The man seems to be a tsunami wave with plants and eyes and birds growing out of his back. The woman melted and stretched into a complimentary force of energy. The image online can not express the great detail of the painting. The hair of the man alone seems to have enough complexity to be a theme for its own painting. All elements here are fluid, liquid, melting.
Optimistic Horse and Rider (2002, oil on panel, 74 x 70 inches) is an even larger explosion of organic puzzle pieces. A woman rides a horse through a dark disk with the rim decorated by a rainbow? Each seam on this piece seems to burst, the hoofs are as much exploding as even the soles on the shoes of the rider. All hair is flying in a strangely invented wind. Wow.
Gray Wave (2002, oil on panel, 70x 74 inches) seems somehow quiet, more of a painting, less a drawing, but here too the forces are much more intricate than wind, sun, gravity and water as we know it. It is as if each tiny blow of wind had its own childish mind, each wave a personality, and all of them somehow hid unspeakable secrets yet to be explored.
THe exhibition consists of paintings bursting with joy and some portraying spiteful moments or acts. Same virtuosity is used to explore the wild jolt of a kiss as to express something as uninviting as Toilet Paper Painting (Suburban Outcast) (2002, oil on panel, 80 x 84 inches). This painting, located in the last of the three galleries might be the densest and have the highest precision in the drawing. The figures here are shown in a spectrum ranging in detail from recognisable elements like cell phones stuck into the backs of jeans to just pure exploding flesh trash color. Some legs have several shoes on them some lack any footwear, even feet. The faces are grotesque, the gestures familiar. And then there is the Toilet paper, the calligraphic element drawn with precision all the way to the perforations of each sheet.
There are no really weak pieces in the show. It feels like a real feast for the viewer it is what exhibitions used to give, before there was cinema. I really hope that all of the six pieces which are for sale will find their home in places accessible to the public. These works of art just want to be revisited again and again. The show will continue at 303 Gallery through December 20th. A catalogue accompanies the show. I will go back to see the work more than once in the next week, if only possible.


wow. i'll have to check these out in person this weekend. thanks for the great find!

Posted by: rob on December 12, 2002 12:08 AM

it is truly the good stuff. If I only had about 90000 burning a hole in my pocket, i would buy three. At least.

Posted by: Witold on December 12, 2002 12:20 AM

Woah, I am truly impressed by the level of depth inwhich essenhigh goes to express herself! I have found her work to be truly inspirational as a young artist, and also as an audience, its had a profound impact upon my work.
I recommend everyone to check out her work!
Brad Santos, NSW Australia.

Posted by: Brad Santos on September 26, 2003 08:39 PM
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