Gallery Address:
845 W Washington Blvd.
2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60607


send email
( scott at westernexhibitions dot com)

Gallery hours:
Wednesdays thru Saturdays
11am to 6pm










artist books, editions and more





March 16 to April 14, 2012
In Gallery 2
info | images

Interview with ELIJAH BURGHER
by Stephanie Clark

Stephanie Clark: What are you thinking of showing in Gallery 2 at Western Exhibitions in terms of the work? I'm interested first in the physical description of the work, very nuts and bolts stuff. What will the viewer see?

Elijah Burgher : I am working on a group of drawings for the show, colored pencil on paper, that will range in scale from 9”x 12" to 19”x 22". Some drawings will be representational, while others will be abstract. What will likely happen is I'll bring a pile of pictures to the gallery and edit on the spot while installing. I'd been in the habit until recently of hanging them the way paintings are conventionally hung--singly and with quite a bit of space between them. Right now I am more interested in arranging them in clusters in order to suggest a larger visual narrative--through proximity and spacing, the height at which they are hung, etc.

SC: Looking at your works concerning sigils I immediately consider how text is really this abstracted form, and how ritual is a very abstract notion in itself, although we as humans try to relegate everything to a logical place: there is much that is highly intuitive and non-descript. How do you see sigils creating and driving narrative within your work?

EB: I have a complicated relationship with narrative--complicated in the way romantic relationships are sometimes said to be complicated. I might have otherwise said "larger visual structure." In terms of installation, though, the sigil drawings can create narrative or structure in several ways--they move attention to the left, right, up or down based on their compositions or formal rhymes with images in proximity to them. Also, in the past, some sigils were made with particular individuals in mind, and I've hung those in conjunction with portraits of those people. Other times the connections are more esoteric.

The sigils are based on language: the forms are created by combining the letters that spell out a wish or desire. Language might be said to be "abstract" insofar as there's nothing that intrinsically connects the letter "A" to the sound it denotes, or the word "cat" to actual cats. In that sense, I am as interested in semiotics as I am in magick. But I am also interested in abstraction, particularly Modernist painting, and the various meanings its practitioners and critics ascribed to it historically. At base, I want to know whether an artwork, any artwork, can possess meaning--to truly embody it somehow. Is a painting by Barnett Newman an advancement in the history of painting, a cathartic expression of Self, or a glorified hunk of wallpaper? Drawing the sigils allows me to think about these issues and questions.

You brought up ritual, though, as well. I don't think ritual is abstract; on the contrary, I think it's very concrete--it entails specific and repeatable actions in real time and space. Perhaps the way those actions relate to the intention behind them is "abstract" though? The ritualistic part of drawing the sigils for me is that I self-reflect on my wishes and desires on a daily basis (as a way to both increase self-knowledge and furnish content for the sigil drawings) and the act of drawing itself, which is fairly labor intensive.

SC: One aspect of your work featuring the nude male figures that I am interested in is the place in which the viewer happens upon a ritual voyeuristically. Could you elaborate on this transitioning space, or in-between space between moments of action? It seems very cinematic to me, and also seems to push the “larger visual structure” in your work in an interesting way.

EB: I don't think of the drawings as representing narratives. This could seem like a trivial distinction, but I intend them as situations. Maybe that's why they seem to picture moments between more dramatic actions? I want them to be mundane, rooted in daily life. That's why so many take place in the shitty apartments in Chicago where I've resided for ten years. The representational drawings generally begin with something that I want to see--someone getting cut, for instance--and then I usually take source photographs and make quick sketches in my journal, and sit on those images for months, a year even, thinking about why I wanted to see them in the first place. The image accrues meaning, resonance, in that way, and then I have to relate that meaning or resonance by realizing the image as a drawing. The "story," or interpretation really, comes later. The bare bones of a narrative are what I'm concerned to illustrate, though--who, what, where, when. I think they might look cinematic because I draw from photographs, embellishing the source materials with memory and imagination.

I've been told before that the pictures position viewers as voyeurs. I've never conceived of them as such. Is that because they're small in scale? Because the men are naked and sometimes in domestic settings? I can't say that I really mind the idea, I'm sort of an exhibitionist in real life.

SC: I am attracted to your palette but more so to your use of a repetitive mark. Can you discuss your decision in using such a repetitive mark in your works? In some ways, for me, this repetitiveness creates a distance psychologically—also formally—from stylization while still maintaining your distinct hand.

EB: The small repetitive marks came about by developing my craft--especially in terms of layering color--and also wanting the drawings to compete with paintings by being full compositions--the images extend edge to edge, there's no paper left uncovered untouched by the marks. Drawing the image or the sigil is also a way of charging it, investing it with attention and intention. I think it is true that it does create some psychological or formal distance from the image, because you can perceive some basic unit of labor and intentionality.

SC: You have mentioned this briefly in a few of your responses so far, but, could you discuss your process in creating your work? Could you elaborate on how the process differs for you when you create your sigil drawings and your more figuratively based works?

EB: I'm in the habit of going back and forth between the sigils and the representational drawings, so that I alternate between the two. I generally only work on one drawing at a time. And I like to work for long, uninterrupted stretches. (That said, habits are developed in order to be questions, and sometimes broken.) The sigils are much more improvisational, though, and therefore more pleasurable to actually make. I start with the linear form of the sigil and use it as a suggestion for how to subdivide space, to organize figure/ground relationships. I usually start with a color idea, but that changes over the course of the picture as I respond to what I've done. The improvisations or split second decisions that happen while I'm making one of the representational drawings are usually of a subtler nature. I usually start with the figure and then draw the space. I think of the two strands of work as equivalent and also as "reaching" toward the other. With the abstractions, I am looking to create space, and funny optical illusions usually result; whereas in the representational drawings I am looking for opportunities to make small abstractions on the fly--formal rhymes or flat areas that I think of as blinking at the viewer. In both cases, the ground wants to swallow up the figure. I want some tension, some conflict, to exist in the figure/ground relationship.

SC: Ritual, magick, and the occult are central to your "larger visual structure"; yet, there is also a really wonderful feeling of "the mundane” in the works involving figure. Could you talk a little bit about daily life working into ritual and vice versa within your work?

EB: When I first became interested in applying ideas from magick and the occult to visual art, it had to do with wanting my work to be more directly related to my daily life and social reality in general. I had been troubled by what I was seeing in galleries and at art fairs. Much of the work appeared to serve no function other than circulating through the art world's media and market systems. It's ultimate content was the individual's success and the smooth functioning of the larger machine. So magick seemed like an interesting thought experiment, a way of raising the ghost of the historical avant garde: what if artworks actually had effects on reality? What spell would I cast if they did? What kind of changes would I like to see brought about in reality? I wanted to use magick to force the issue of art's relationship to life. On the other hand, I didn't want to be producing fantasies to replace reality, but show desire in the context of life, my life. So the figures are drawn from my friends, lovers, and people I admire. The spaces they occupy are those I know intimately.

Do you know Devendra Banhart's first record? Musically and lyrically, it feels like it could be from anytime whatsoever--these are folk songs, fairy tales, nursery rhymes. But it was recorded at home, and the tape hiss creates an ambient ground on which his voice and guitar make a figure. And a historical ground as well. One song is interrupted part-way through by the sound of a car passing, presumably outside of the window of his apartment. Yes, we do hatch fantasies in shitty apartments in various cities around the world. You move from that car passing to the urban environment to the lives we live in those places as under-employed artists, and the frame expands outward metonymically to the recession and Wall Street and permanent war and a much larger and troubling historical ground. My point is that I'm concerned that the "real" intrude rudely in the work. That's a point I'm trying to push more directly in the drawings I am making right now.

This interview was conducted in preparation for Elijah Burgher’s first solo show at Western Exhibitions, March 16 to April 14, 2012. He will present color pencil drawings and a large stained canvas that that utilize ideas from magick and the occult to address sexuality, sub-cultural formation and the history of abstraction. He has exhibited at 2nd Floor Project in San Francisco, Shane Campbell Gallery in Chicago, Lump in Raleigh, NC, and The NY Art Book Fair in New York. Burgher was a contributor to AA Bronson & Peter Hobbs’ Invocation of the Queer Spirits publication this winter and collaborated with Terence Hannum on the zine, A Cataract of Fire & Blood. Burgher received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and BA from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxeville, NY. He lives and works in Chicago.

Stephanie Clark is an artist soon moving to New Mexico from Chicago. She was in intern at Western Exhibition in the fall of 2011.