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By Jeff Maisey

The colorfully engaging, fantastically themed large format paintings of New York City-based artist Inka Essenhigh are certain to wow viewers in an exhibition called “A Fine Line,” on view at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), in Virginia Beach, from March 17 through August 19.

It is important to note MOCA’s exhibitions are curated; that although the artists being shown are generally from out of market, each exhibit is programmed by a curator. In the case of “A Fine Line,” MOCA’s Heather Hakimzadeh selected art from Essenhigh’s extensive body of work to showcase.

Of the 29 Essenhigh paintings on display, Hakimzadeh feels “Fairy Procession”  will have visual art fans raving. The cool blues and fluid creatures appear to be having a frolicking time with drink and dance. There is much detail to absorb.

“This is a show-stopper,” said Hakimzadeh. “I want to step into the painting and join the party.”

The painting is also a perfect example of why people shoald see this exhibition in the flesh and blood.

“When you look at a painting the experience you have in person is so different than the experience you have on a screen,” she said. “I feel a lot of art consumption right now is happening on a screen. To see a work in-person can give people a transcendent moment. This is one of those types of paintings where you don’t get the detail, depth and use of space fully until you see it in-person.”

Another highlight of the Essenhigh show is “Aquarius,” an impressive wall of imagery featuring three 84” X 52” panels positioned together for a dream-like nighttime stroll on a beach with rock formations, a vast mystical sea, and an almost Van Gogh-esque cosmic sky with swimming, comet-like streaking lines.

“Aquarius,” in a way, reminded me of a scene from the 1997 movie “Contact” when actress Jodie Foster was momentarily transported to another world and was reluctant in her dream state to return back to earth.

“What’s really exciting about this work,” said Hakimzadeh, “is when you work with oil on paper oil is commitment. Once you put the bush to paper the oil soaks in and it’s there. I love that she was able to create something so big and transcendent and completely committed. This giant triptych was a big step for her, I feel, and it is a work you want to look at and reminds me of our beach. People who live in our community have this connection to the ocean.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, MOCA published Inka Essenhigh’s first-ever monograph. The book ($45 in the gift shop) includes full-color images of Essenhigh’s work with writing by MOCA’s Heather Hakimzadeh and Alison Byrne, an interview with former MOCA exhibiting artist Ryan McGuiness and Inka Essenhigh, and an essay by Matthew Weinstein.