Has Elijah Burgher been initiated into some kind of sex-magic cult? Details of the ceremonies are scant, but they appear to involve one or two trim, naked young men interacting with large geometric symbols attached to the walls or floor.
Burgher’s exhibition is something like an anthropological exhibit at the Field Museum. It includes several original artifacts: the large-scale, ceiling-hung magic symbols that may once have been used in cultic rituals, as well as highly detailed color pencil depictions of those rituals in preparation or execution. These drawings have been made with descriptive objectivity and conventional pictorial skills akin to nineteenth-century artist/explorers. There’s a distant coolness and rationality about these drawings that is sometimes incongruent with the subject, as the handsome young dudes seem about to calmly participate in a medical procedure at a health clinic.
The purpose of the ritual remains a mystery. Are they more about personal power than spiritual growth? Is there a hierarchy of masters and followers? Why was it necessary to create one of the pieces as a “talisman against suicide?” Personality seems absent from the figures that are presented, especially from the tight lips and blank stare of the only close-up frontal view of a face, entitled “Lucifer.” The geometric designs present a clean, orderly, high-energy world—though not especially a happy one. But then sexuality has always been an emotionally dangerous experience, whether it has been performed for procreation, cash, thrills or love.
The geometric symbols feel a bit loose and sloppy in their wall-size application, regardless of the magical effects they may have upon initiates. When the artist assembles them as miniatures into an abstract drawing, they feel crushed by an intense orderliness. The total effect is a bit claustrophobic. But when he adds human figures, the energy really starts popping between the bodies and the geometric patterns beside them. As he builds a box-like room to enclose it all, Burgher shows an exciting mastery of pictorial space and design. As both a colorist and excellent draftsman, the colors and forms are given a sparkling, fresh effect. There is a tightness about these beautiful visions, as if they are firmly bound by sexual repression. But so few other paintings invite us to meditate on the prelude to intercourse or masturbation. (Chris Miller)
Through December 7 at Western Exhibitions, 845 West Washington.