+ Francesco Clemente
Inka Essenhigh, Moon Creatures, 2010, oil paint monotype printed from a steel matrix, 13.75 x 11.75 in. Printed by Pace Editions, Inc., Published by Pace Editions, Inc.
Francesco Clemente, Conception, 1987, aquatint, printed in seven colors, edition of 55, image size: 34.5 x 25.4 in, paper size: 44.9 x 39 in. Printed by Vigna Antoniniana.
Q+A: Inka Essenhigh
How has the artist you chose influenced or inspired you?
There were three artists who came to mind when I was asked to be in this show and pick an artist who influenced me. The first was Dorothy Tanning (this didn't work out because she has stated that she won't be in a show about being a female artist). She wasn't an influence on me as a young artist, but now that I'm making work that is in some way similar to hers, I can appreciate and enjoy it. I think of her as being an influence in the way that one can inherit the freedom and the artistic language that another helped to create.
The second artist I thought about was Elizabeth Murray, who was an early influence on me. I saw her work at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio while I was at the Columbus College of Art and Design. It wasn't the shaped canvases that interested me; it was her colors, the paint and the freedom of having fun.
She also made paintings about a domestic narrative that reminded me that an artist could make something important out of anything. At the time identity art was popular and being a middle-class white girl wasn't interesting enough for subject matter—or so I thought. Unfortunately, it proved too difficult to borrow a work of my own that went with hers.
So I chose a work by Francesco Clemente. In art school I would have liked to have made works that dealt with mystical themes, but I had no access to that world, no experience with mysticism that I could draw on. Now I do, from my own spiritual interests and seeking. Clemente stands out as an artist who dealt with mystical subject matter and managed to communicate this in the context of the New York art world and for that I am in artistic debt to him.
What does feminism mean to you? Does it influence your practice or the way you position your work?
Feminism means gender equality.
Does it influence your practice or the way you position your work?
As artists we inherit an artistic understanding and practices from those that came before us. Female artists have already laid the cultural groundwork that led to artistic acceptance in the West, at least.
Today I think the best thing a female artist can do is to assume that she is totally equal and that there is nothing more on this score to worry about. I didn't think my being a woman made a difference in my work at all, until recently, when some have said that my work was too "girly." I think that the notion that "girlyness" is a bad thing is old-fashioned thinking and that all I have to do is wait for these thoughts to die off! I can never tell if this type of criticism affects what I make. It was not my intention to make feminine work, but I don't feel like that's a bad thing.
Some public figures have said we live in a post-gender condition, would you agree?
The idea that we live in a post-gender world really depends on one's age and where in the world you live. Younger people in western society no doubt feel liberated from many gender differences. However, since today artists are communicating globally, there may still be some limitations for female artists to overcome.