Will our species adapt to the challenges of the late Holocene? Or will we follow the path to extinction forged by countless other species as our Goldilocks zone transitions in preparation for the next apex predator? Imagining the multitude of plausible realities towards which we might be headed, Essenhigh wonders: “Can painting a beautiful future help make it come true? If we have a picture of what we want, can we head towards that?”
It is a Uchronic vision.
What Utopia is to place, Uchronia is to time—a speculative epoch of perfection that never was, but might yet be. Essenhigh’s Uchronia suggests a beguiling hereafter, in which the descendants of contemporary humans have taken responsibility for the stewardship of nature and successfully addressed all ecological threats to their survival. Presented as relics from the past, the paintings ask us to imagine ourselves as enlightened, Post-Human viewers 2500 years in the future, winsomely looking back on images of the beauteous, bygone era when we transcended our demons and realized our potential.
Kavi Gupta, Chicago, Jun 1 – Aug 24, 2019
From her imagination
Inka Essenhigh paints landscapes from her imagination into which the eyes and minds of viewers might temporarily abscond. Employing a mix of narration, symbolism, and mystery, her paintings explore what about nature can be known and what lurks beyond our perception. Says Essenhigh, “The unknown comes from the painting process, putting brush to canvas. I do have an agenda, and a world I want to create. I’m not interested in meaninglessness. But I am looking for the feeling that the images are coming to me.”
Essenhigh sometimes engages existing myths, fairy tales, and fables, and sometimes invents her own. Inspired by the eponymous Greek myth, Daphne and Apollo (2012) seize the climatic, moonlit scene when the nymph Daphne, pursued by an aroused Apollo, is transformed into a tree after a desperate appeal to her father, the river god Peneus. Summer Landscape (2013) meanwhile has new stories to tell as magical sprites inter-twine chameleon-like with plants and vines along an undulating, luminescent horizon. Segmented into three panels and painted on paper, its subject matter and golden hues bring to mind perhaps a 16th century Byōbu, ethereally placing the narrative simultaneously in the past and present.
Complex and always enchanting, her work explores contemporary culture and nature in ways that evoke in viewers something magical.
Inka Essenhigh (born 1969 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania) is an American painter based in New York City.
In the mid-1990s, Essenhigh was among the first generation of American artists to return to figuration. Stylistically, her paintings have been described as ranging from completely flat to rendering deep pictorial space, blending abstraction and figuration and going back and forth between the two. In the late 1990s, Essenhigh’s work attracted attention as one of a generation of young painters in New York, including Cecily Brown, Damien Loeb, and Will Cotton. Her early work was sometimes characterized as “Pop Surrealism” for its strangely attenuated cartoon forms and flat, simple colors. She was included in the influential 1998 Pop Surrealism exhibition at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, which Steven Henry Madoff described in Artforum as follows: “The mutant sensibility at work in this droll, smartly curated exhibition proposes the marriage of Surrealism’s dream-laden fetish for the body eroticized and grotesque and Pop art’s celebration of the shallower, corrosively bright world given over to the packaged good.”
¿Se adaptará nuestra especie a los desafíos del Holoceno tardío? ¿O seguiremos el camino hacia la extinción forjada por otras innumerables especies a medida que nuestra zona Goldilocks transita en preparación para el próximo depredador de ápices? Imaginando la multitud de realidades plausibles hacia las que podríamos dirigirnos, Essenhigh se pregunta: “¿Puede el pintar un hermoso futuro ayudar a hacerlo realidad? Si tenemos una imagen de lo que queremos, ¿podemos dirigirnos hacia eso?