For his fourth solo show with Western Exhibitions, Until the beasts and all the mountain are wild with divinity, Elijah Burgher presents a series of photographs that are hand-manipulated with ink, bleach and other materials in Gallery 1, and a small group of recent portrait drawings alongside a multi-panel print installation, Nude Ghosts, in Gallery 2.
Continuing his interest in matching figuration to abstraction in a provocative tension, Burgher alters photographic prints with ink, bleach, alcohol, acrylic paint and other liquids, partially obscuring scenes of sexual and religious communion with streaking stains of color. His source imagery is largely derived from documentation of Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Massperformance, done in collaboration with writer and historian Ben Miller at WHOLE United Queer Festival in Gräfenhainichen, Germany. Rituals conducted privately with friends in The Lover’s Labyrinth, a series of murals Burgher presented at Open Forum in Berlin, are also drawn upon as sources. Bits and pieces of bodies poke through veils of shattered shapes in these small jewel-like works, the surfaces of which fluctuate from transparent to opaque and from matte to shiny. Burgher’s manipulations bring to mind art historical precedents like 19thcentury hand-painted photography and the visual culture of psychedelia. The pictures ultimately transcend reference, evoking the ecstasy and immediacy of visionary experience, particularly its communal mode of Dionysian revelry.
Burgher creates structured, hieratic compositions in his new colored pencil portraits of friends and lovers, recalling Christian iconography of saints; however, in lieu of halos and hagiographic attributes, the figures are surrounded by floating sigils. These symbols—one of Burgher’s primary subjects for the past twelve years—surge forward and sprout oddly vegetal curling tendrils, populating the atmosphere like manifested thought-forms or celestial entities. A simplified approach to pencil technique and color along with a new attention to the paper as a source of light allow for heightened luminosity. The portraits will be accompanied by Nude Ghosts, a suite of eighteen red pressure prints, each emblazoned with a character from the artist’s evolving “alphabet of desire.
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