"I wanted my work to have a connection to the world of the collective unconscious, the mysterious world of dreams and archetypes" - Inka Essenhigh
Living and working in New York, Inka Essenhigh's paintings show the artist's surreal mysterious dream world, tender and sensual, vivid and questioning. There is a fairy tale in each work, which one tries to read with the help of the characters and their surroundings, colours and forms. Even depicting simple every-day events, Inka turns them into fantastic scenes that invite us to a journey in the artist's imaginary world, so detailed and exotic that there is a feeling of intrusion into another person's mind.
Essenhigh’s work has been widely shown at galleries and museums around the world including SMAK in Belgium, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Bienal de São Paulo, SITE Santa Fe, MOMA in New York, and the Royal Academy in London. Her work is featured in several prestigious public collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Tate Gallery. The Jacob Lewis Gallery in New York and The Victoria Miro Gallery in London represent Inka Essenhigh.
One of Artdependence Magazine Authors prepared an interview with Inka Essenhigh.
The first time I got acquainted with the work off Inka Essenhigh was in her London gallery, Victoria Miro, in 2008. The magic in her work combined with dynamics and movement has followed me ever since. It was obvious to me I had to interview her for Artdependence. A small detail: The interview was conducted on her birthday.
Artdependence Magazine: Can you tell me a bit about the importance of the work: The green wave. There is so much movement in this painting. I have the same feeling about this painting as Charlie Finch described in Lower East Side.
Inka Essenhigh: I made a series of paintings of waves at that time. I liked making decorative shapes turn into solid form. In this painting, there is a person coming out of the water, they are wearing a yellow life vest that you see on airplanes and on the beach there are some orange lights (dots) that are guiding this person to safety. The wave is turning into a mouth that wants to eat the escaping person. The sea has an eye. It's about beauty and fear and how bits of plastic might triumph over nature.
Summer Landscape by Inka Essenhigh, photograph courtesy of Jacob Lewis Gallery and the artist
AD: Lots of your earlier work refers to Greek mythology. I assume you read Greek legends and dramas. How did you get interested in this?
IE: I wanted my work to have a connection to the world of the collective unconscious, the mysterious world of dreams and archetypes. I worked automatically, meaning whatever popped into my mind I made without judging the content. If something became like Pegasus I would hope that it had meaning in my subconscious. I was never worried about tradition; the point was to make something living and that meant something to me today.
Now that I'm older, I have experienced a connected to this world where myths come from and I base my paintings on those experiences.
Electric Underground by Inka Essenhigh, photograph courtesy of Jacob Lewis Gallery and the artist
AD: You made a series of paintings of a world you wanted to live in, has painting become a therapy for you at that moment?
IE: Perhaps, but so has the idea is that it's not just for me, it's for you.
AD: The way you develop as an artist is very interesting to me. It seems to me more a smooth natural continuation, not develop to develop?
IE: There was one visual break from when I was making paintings out of enamel in 2000 and then I stopped using that material. Everything else has been the same along the same sort of investigation. I find it more useful to judge a work by its effects on me rather then analyzing its style.
Lower East Side by Inka Essenhigh, photograph courtesy of the artist
AD: I’d like to present a quote Frida Kahlo once made: “I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration”. Is it fair to say this applies to you also?
IE: Yes, but perhaps I’m not so purely unselfconscious. Frida probably wasn't either. I know that when I look at other people’s paintings I can see when they are into it, when they are asleep at the wheel, when they are having fun, when they feel like they are making something because they have to, when they think they are clever, and when they are genuinely inspired. Everyone can see it. So I have no choice but to search for the best experience in my painting. What that is changes daily.
AD: Can you tell me a bit about the works now exhibited at the Jacob Lewis Gallery?
IE: These are large paintings on paper. The paper brought out my more decorative side, a side of me that I hadn't exercised in a while and it makes me happy. In the beginning I liked making paintings on paper because it seemed easier and less of a commitment then canvas, but then they started to take more time. In this show, you can see a summer painting - summer landscape, a fall painting - city blossom- and an early spring bringing back the light painting - Aquarius.
Photograph courtesy of Jacob Lewis Gallery and the artist
AD: Can you share with the readers of Artdependence Magazine some of your future plans?
IE: I will be having a show of canvases and works on paper at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen in February.
Photo above: Artist Inka Essenhigh in New York city by Sbmumford
Artist's site is here.
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