Elijah Burgher

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Elijah Burgher’s (American, b. 1978, living in Berlin) artistic endeavour employs occult iconographies from different esoteric systems in creating his specific abstract language and his own formal and meaningful grammar of emblems and sigils. For these sigils, Elijah Burgher follows a method devised by the early 20th century British artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare. The manner in which Burgher uses this mystical process in order to create a form-content unity relates to his interest in experiments with written text and language, such as Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’s cut-ups, Henri Michaux's asemic writing, Lettrism.

"Prince of Stars (Oliver) is a portrait of my friend, Oliver Coran, an artist I met in Chicago when he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I was teaching part-time there. He moved to Germany to study at Staedelschule and now lives and works in Berlin, so we've had the opportunity to renew our friendship, which is a queer, intergenerational family one. The work is based on a photo of the Bauhaus artist, Johannes Itten, dressed in a monk-like robe, posing next to the color star he invented to visualize his concept of color theory. I wanted to represent Oliver as an adept in ...

“Infused with symbols and occult references, Elijah Burgher’s work explores and celebrates sexuality and queer culture, incorporating religious iconography and plumbing the depths of queer abstraction. In each work, Burgher spells out wishes and intentions using sigils that either stand alone or surround intimate, tender portraits of his friends. Colored pencil is applied using soft, gentle strokes that achieve a luminous quality, as though radiating light.” (Shannon Lee, “Trends to Watch in 2021: Colored Pencil Revival”, in Artsy, Jan 20 2021)

“The ink paintings are composed of layered sigils - symbols of wishes, desires, God-forms and demons that are derived from cutting up and recombining language into new forms. The ink paintings are an ongoing activity in my studio. I think of them as practicing a private alphabet - so they're both a meditative and mnemonic routine for me. But they are also about forgetting because the sigils partially disappear through layering and erasing." (Elijah Burgher)

  • "Scrivere Disegnando: When Language Seeks Its Other", group show, Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Switzerland, installation view, January 29 - May 03 2020
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“Burgher’s three double-sided paintings – Eden Eden Eden Eden Eden, Garden of Hanging Gods and The Perineum Is the Door! (all 2018–20) – are composed of layers of shapely sigils on canvas drop-cloths, with pornographic photographs depicting ink-splattered male nudes, produced in collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist Richard Hawkins, also affixed to the busy partitions. Burgher has used the cloths, initially installed to protect the floor of his Chicago studio, for rituals exploring the ‘chaos magic’ of occultists like Austin Osman Spare.”

(Harry Burke, “Is Modernity a History of the Unwritten?”, in Frieze, Issue 211, 25 Mar. 2020, exhibition review, “Scrivere Disegnando’ (Writing by Drawing)” at Centre d’Art Contemporain, Genève)

  • "The Lover’s Labyrinth", 2019, solo show, site-specific mural painting, Open Forum, Berlin, installation view
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“For his exhibition at Open Forum, Elijah Burgher has executed a series of monumental paintings directly on the walls of the gallery. Burgher used Open Forum as a studio for the duration of his allotted time at the gallery, framing the execution of the murals as a ritual dedicated to the invocation of the Venereal Machine and the Poor Little Ghost Boy, the artist’s monikers for the archetypal pair of the Beloved and their Lover. Invented on site without preparatory drawings, the paintings extend across three walls of the space as a cyclical frieze. Although the story is literally encrypted as abstrac ...

  • "Sperm Cult", group show, LAXArt, Hollywood, CA, installation view, November 11 2018 - January 06 2019
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  • "4 Paintings", solo show, LAXART, Los Angeles, CA, installation view, January 21 - February 23 2019
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  • "Nudes in the Forest", solo show, Ivan Gallery, Bucharest, installation view, February 06 - March 24 2018
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"Nudes in the Forest" at Ivan Gallery, 2018, was Burgher’s first solo show in Europe.

On this occasion Burgher has envisioned a site-specific environment made of three interrelated elements: the Nudes and the Chants - works on paper created with the printmaking process of pressure printing - inside the architecture of the symbolical spaces emanated by wall paintings of magical sigils.

“Titles are important, they’re like breadcrumb trails. The nude is an age-old subject of art. Most crucially for me, the nude has frequently served as a vehicle for expressing love, desir ...

  • "AA Bronson’s Sacre du Printemps", 2015, group exhibition, Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria, installation view
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“AA Bronson selects Elijah Burgher"

“Elijah Burgher is a painter who I have included in both The Temptation of AA Bronson and AA Bronson’s House of Shame at the Gwangju Biennale. His process comes out of European ceremonial magic, and in particular uses the sigil technique of Austin Osman Spare, now standard in Chaos Magic. Each painting involves a private ritual that results in the painting, usually executed on a canvas drop cloth, on which Eilijah sits, naked, throughout the painting ritual. In my opinion Elijah is re-navigating abstract painting, bringing ...

  • "The Temptation of AA Bronson", 2013, group exhibition, Witte de with Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, installation view
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  • "AA Bronson’s House of Shame", 2014, group exhibition, 10th Gwangju Biennale, Republic of Korea, installation view
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  • Whitney Biennial 2014, group exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, installation view
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“Elijah Burgher’s precisely detailed drawings and large, gestural drop-cloth paintings sit at the intersections of representation and language, imaginary and real worlds. All of his works, whether figurative and representational or symbol-based and abstract, merge personal narrative with magic, the occult, and queer aesthetics.

Burgher’s finely wrought drawings are embedded with incantations and sigils—magical symbols in which the words of a spell are collapsed to abstraction—that weave together the artist’s desires for his own life, for those of his friends and colleagues, and for historical ...