This year’s recipient of the Alumni Award for Excellence embodies all that the honor represents.
Fine Arts alumna and painter Inka Essenhigh is a true creative with a keen awareness of contemporary culture, and her boundary-pushing work is highly regarded all over the world.
In the past 10 years, the 1991 alumna has had solo exhibitions in cities including New York City, London, Brussels, and Kyoto.
“Her consistent exhibition record suggests a strong work ethic,” said Fine Arts professor Tim Rietenbach, who nominated Essenhigh for the award. “In the context of the mainstream gallery scene, she is very highly regarded.”
Her paintings “are infused with a dreamlike, surreal sensibility,” said her gallery, Victoria Miro. “With their pristine, high-gloss surfaces and accentuated colors, Essenhigh’s painting style continues to move towards an almost sculptural three-dimensionality in its delineation of forms.”
In 2010, New York Times reporter Ken Johnson noted the “tensions between sophistication and naïveté, and skepticism and belief” in her work.
Essenhigh said her love of painting was nurtured during her time at CCAD.
“I remember wanting to be a painter and being in love with painting,” she said. “I remember worrying terribly that painting was dead on the one hand, and on the other worrying terribly that my work looked ‘illustrational.’”
Raised in Columbus, Essenhigh credits what she calls her “middle American-ness” with instilling in her important foundational skills.
“I’m from Columbus, and I often joke that it’s the most exotic thing about me,” she said. “With that [upbringing] comes a work ethic, a craft [the ability to draw], and an appreciation for what’s come before — all things that were reinforced at CCAD."
Now living and working in New York City, Essenhigh is preparing for her latest solo show, Large Paintings on Paper, at Pace Prints in New York City.
Even in the midst of a busy exhibition season, Essenhigh said she is looking forward to returning home in October to receive the award.
“It is wonderful to be honored by the place you are from,” she said. “Perhaps it's the toughest audience!”
Essenhigh’s work will be honored during CCAD’s WelcomeFest on Sept. 5; a selection of current work will be exhibited in the Canzani Gallery from July 10–Oct. 11.
Each year CCAD accepts nominations for the Alumni Award for Excellence as a way to acknowledge not only the success and contributions of one very deserving graduate, but also the impact CCAD alumni have all over the world. To read about past winners, click here.