Critics’ Picks

Elijah Burgher, BotD (Eden, Repeat), 2015, acrylic on canvas drop cloth, 100 x 70".

Elijah Burgher, BotD (Eden, Repeat), 2015, acrylic on canvas drop cloth, 100 x 70".

New York

Elijah Burgher

Zieher Smith & Horton
516 West 20th Street
May 26–June 20, 2015

How do you summon a love that dares not speak its name? For generations of gay men, subversive amatory feelings were expressed through unspoken tokens and symbols—Oscar Wilde’s set favored green carnations affixed to their lapels, while in the 1970s, colored handkerchiefs were de rigueur for getting laid. For artist Elijah Burgher’s current show, signification of sexuality is wrapped in the cloak of esoteric practices, including the use of a mystical symbol known as a “sigil” and the invocation of a fictitious cult referred to as the Bachelors of the Dawn.

Among the works exhibited, seven large-scale acrylic paintings on unframed drop cloths feature Burgher’s sigils. Set against monochromatic fields, the palimpsest of snaking, interlocking geometric forms, as with BotD (Love Machine) and BotD 4, all works 2015, call to mind an archaic circuit board. Created through the abstraction and recombination of letters in an existing text, the sigils are quite literally the deconstruction of language in the service of sexual affirmation. Judith Butler eat your heart out. Meanwhile, interspersed amid the paintings, six portraits in color pencil, such as Bachelor (Anthony), portray nude male figures set against backdrops of various sigils, while a seventh image, AOS, depicts Austin Osman Spare, the early twentieth-century British occultist who popularized the use of sigils, sans sigil decoration.

Elsewhere, a series of ten small red monochromatic pressure prints titled “BotD (Red)” displays additional sigils. For Burgher, a sigil’s power lies, in part, in its ability to undermine established forms of communication. Indeed, it would seem that when existing language forecloses the attestation of forbidden desire, a new one has to be created.