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Inka Essenhigh | Artsy

Kitchen 2623 C.E., 2018, Enamel on canvas, 60 x 72 inches
Courtesy of Kavi Gupta Gallery


Inka Essenhigh’s painting Kitchen 2623 C.E. (2019) envisions a futuristic domestic space. A smoky, angelic female figure floats in a purple kitchen, above a floor that looks like astroturf. An anthropomorphized pan in front of her appears to grab fruit, a whisk, and various kitchen utensils in the process of making food. Such fantastical situations, rendered with fairy tale hues and softness, are a hallmark for the painter.

Describing why she works in a surrealist mode, Essenhigh said, “I can’t help it! Even if I make a picture with nothing distorted it is read as surrealistic. It just oozes out of me.” The Surrealist idea of “automatic drawing,” or unplanned sketching that supposedly brings out an artist’s subconscious, is particularly helpful for her practice. Essenhigh’s paintings allow her to explore “the deeply mysterious nature of the world.”

— Alina Cohen

Birdsongs, 2017, Enamel on canvas, 42 x 40 inches

Birdsongs, 2017, Enamel on canvas, 42 x 40 inches

Surrealism grew out of the angst of the 1920s. Countries across the globe were still reeling from the devastation of World War I. The Western world was just coming around to radical new art forms such as Cubism and jazz. Advances in radios, medicine and psychology, commercial airlines, and automobiles were helping people rethink the mind and body, as well as the future of communication and transportation. Out of this chaotic blend of progress and loss, André Breton established a new philosophy. In his 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, he outlined the movement’s contours and wrote about how dreams and reality would resolve into “a kind of absolute reality, a surreality.” Salvador Dalí would go on to paint melting clocks, while Frida Kahlo rendered herself as a wounded deer.

Breton noted that artists had been working in this vein for centuries: He named essayist Jonathan Swift, libertine philosopher the Marquis de Sade, and poet Arthur Rimbaud as past surrealists. These assertions suggested their dreamy mode wasn’t a fad, but an impulse common to many artists and writers across centuries. It has, in fact, persisted in various forms since the height of its popularity in the mid-20th century. In 2019, artists are still creating pictures, photographs, and films that revel in the uncanny. Below, we investigate a few of their practices.

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