Inka Essenhigh

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Inka Essenhigh (born 1969 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania) is an American painter based in New York City. She is represented by Miles McEnery Gallery in New York, Kavi Gupta in Chicago, Baldwin Gallery in Aspen and Victoria Miro Gallery in London.[1] Throughout her career, Essenhigh has had solo exhibitions at galleries such as Deitch Projects, Mary Boone Gallery, 303 Gallery, Stefan Stux Gallery, and Jacob Lewis Gallery in New York, Tomio Koyama Gallery in Tokyo, and Il Capricorno in Venice.[2][3]

Inka Essenhigh
Artist Inka Essenhigh.jpg
Artist Inka Essenhigh in New York City
Alma materColumbus College of Art and Design, School of Visual Arts
Known forPainting, printmaking
MovementPop Surrealism, New Figuration, Comic Abstraction
Spouse(s)Steve Mumford


Essenhigh graduated from Upper Arlington High School and studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio (1991) and earned a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York (1992–94).[4] She has taught at the New York Academy of Art and was a Master Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts.[5][6]

Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2017, enamel on canvas, 32 x 80 inches, as published in Artforum


In the mid-1990s, Essenhigh was among the first generation of American artists to return to figuration.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] Her early work was sometimes characterized as "Pop Surrealism" for its strangely attenuated cartoon forms and flat, simple colors.[10][11] 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.”[12]

Spring, 2006, oil on canvas, 72 x 62 inches (182.9 x 157.5 cm) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

A decade later, Essenhigh was included in another groundbreaking exhibition — The Museum of Modern Art’s Comic Abstraction: Image Making, Image Breaking (2007).[13] The mid 2000s brought on a distinct shift in Essenhigh’s style and materials, from her use of very flat enamel paints in the 1990s, to a more atmospheric application of oil paint in the new decade.[14][15] (see Born Again, 1999, enamel on canvas, in the collection of the Tate Modern versus Spring, 2006, oil on canvas, in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) For Essenhigh, these changes in materials not only differed aesthetically, but pointed to clear references in art history: “I stopped painting in oil for a time and started using enamel. At the time I needed to get away from all that history, that search for deeper emotions. I needed to drop all the baggage that comes with oil paint and do something completely contemporary, which I found in the slick, bright, flat surfaces of enamels.”[16] Essenhigh has most recently moved back to enamel painting, but completed in such a manner as to retain the qualities of light found in her earlier work with oil (as seen in Midsummer Night’s Dream, enamel on canvas, 2017).

Born Again, 1999, Enamel on Canvas, from the collection of the Tate Modern
Deluge, 1998, oil enamel on canvas, 72 x 72 inches (182.88 x 182.88 cm) Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York

While Essenhigh often made use of automatic drawing early on in her career,[17] the work has since shifted to a very intentional use of narrative content.[18] In an interview with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Essenhigh explains, “Maybe I don’t need to take whatever comes out of my imagination and be ok with that. Maybe I can start to form the world that I want to live in.”[19] Mythology, landscape and the urban versus pastoral are recurring motifs in her work, although Essenhigh does not limit herself by subject. She has blended abstraction and figuration in an investigation of psychological and metaphysical realities. In a 2018 Hyperallergic review, the artist/writer Peter Malone describes, “Essenhigh reveals a freedom that resonates with all manner of fusion: of figure and design, of abstraction and narrative, of sentiment and humor, and more generally, of ambitious painting with a readable narrative.”[20] Essenhigh states, “I think about the archetypes and stories that we tell ourselves, and reenact in some way. We change our consciousness through storytelling all the time. If you want to change how people are thinking about something, you can tell a story about it. It does the job really fast. I don’t think I’m necessarily changing consciousness, but I’m painting another place. I would like my paintings to have that feeling — that other worlds are possible.”[21]

In 2018, Essenhigh completed a mural at the Drawing Center in New York, NY and had two solo exhibitions, one at Miles McEnery Gallery in New York, NY[22] and a retrospective at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach, VA, "A Fine Line",[23][24] which traveled to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.[25] Essenhigh’s first monograph was published by MOCA in conjunction with the exhibition. [26]

Selected Exhibitions[edit]

  • Miles McEnery Gallery, New York, NY[30]
  • "The New Frontiers of Painting," Fondazione Stelline, Milan, Italy. [31]
  • “Disturbing Innocence,” Curated by Eric Fischl, The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY. [35]
  • 2014 “Comet Dust & Crystal Shards,” Jacob Lewis Gallery, New York, NY. [36]
  • 2012 "The Natural and the Man-made," Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, Japan.[37]
  • 2011 "Inka Essenhigh: New Editions & Monoprints," Pace Prints, New York, NY. [38]
  • 2010 "The Old New Age," 303 Gallery, New York, NY. [40]
  • 2006 303 Gallery, New York, NY.[42]
  • 2003 "Recent Paintings," Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL. [48]
  • 2002 Victoria Miro Gallery, London, England. [49]
  • 303 Gallery, New York, NY.[50]
  • 2000 Mary Boone Gallery, New York, NY. [51]
  • 1999 Deitch Projects, New York, NY. [52]


Inka Essenhigh's work is included in the following permanent collections:

Selected Works[edit]


  1. ^ "Inka Essenhigh, A Fine Line".
  2. ^ Vitamin P. Regent's Wharf, All Saints Street London n1 9PA: Phaidon Press Limited. 2002. ISBN 171484246 Check |isbn= value: length (help).
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Faculty". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  6. ^ "Residency History". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  7. ^ Charlotte Mullins (2006). Painting People, Figure Painting Today. 155 6th Ave. New York, NY 10013: Distributed Art Publishers. ISBN 978-1-933045-38-2.
  8. ^ Maine, Stephen (Apr 26, 2010). "Reviews: Inka Essenhigh".
  9. ^ Hoban, Phoebe: "The Mod Squad", New York Magazine, Jan 5, 1999
  10. ^ Nahas, Dominique and Klein, Richard: "Pop Surrealism", Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Jan, 1999
  11. ^ Clearwater, Bonnie: "Inka Essenhigh", Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Nov, 2003
  12. ^ Madoff, Steven Henry: "Pop Surrealism", Artforum International, Vol. 37, No. 2, October 1998
  13. ^
  14. ^ Plagens, Peter (Oct 24, 2014). "Art Review: Gallery Exhibitions of Inka Essenhigh, Michelle Grabner and Russian Avant-Garde Art". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  15. ^ "Setup: Inka Essenhigh – "Comet Dust & Crystal Shards" @ Jacob Lewis Gallery". Arrested Motion. October 14, 2014. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
  16. ^ "Artist Inka Essenhigh on how she paints".
  17. ^ Sheets, Hilary (May 2004). "SWIRLS, WHIRLS, & MERMAID GIRLS". Art News. p. 136-139.
  18. ^ Farthing, Stephen (2007). 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. New York, NY: Quintet Publishing Limited. p. 936. ISBN 0-7893-1524-6.
  19. ^
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  22. ^ Article in Vice's Garage Magazine by Paddy Johnson, March 20, 2018
  23. ^ Article in The Virginian Pilot by Denise M. Watson, March 15, 2018
  24. ^ Article on March 19, 2018
  25. ^
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  29. ^
  30. ^ Malone, Peter. May 17th 2018. [1]
  31. ^
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  36. ^ Plagens, Peter. October 24th 2014. [2]
  37. ^ Larking, Matthew. March 22nd 2012. [3]
  38. ^ Goldsworthy, Rupert. March 26th 2011. [4]
  39. ^ Beem, Edgar Allen. August 17th 2011. [5]
  40. ^ Johnson, Ken. Feb. 4th 2010. [6]
  41. ^
  42. ^ Kalm, James. May 9th 2006. [7]
  43. ^
  44. ^ [8]
  45. ^ Eleey, Peter. October 10, 2004. [9]
  46. ^ Schwabsky, Barry. December 2004. [10]
  47. ^
  48. ^ [11]
  49. ^ Kimmelman, Michael. Inka Essenhigh: A Painter With Pop, The New York Times Magazine, November 17th 2002.
  50. ^ Kimmelman, Michael. Inka Essenhigh: A Painter With Pop, The New York Times Magazine, November 17th 2002.
  51. ^ Smith, Roberta. June 16th 2000.[12]
  52. ^ Mahoney, Robert. 1999. [13]
  53. ^
  54. ^ Madoff, Steven Henry. October 1998. Artforum International, Vol. 37, No. 2
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