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A Visit to the Studio of Elijah Burgher

Buzz has built around this Humboldt Park artist since Art Chicago in 2010. Before he heads to the Whitney Biennial, he opened up his studio for photos and an interview.

Elijah Burgher   Photo: Ratko Radojcic

This 35-year-old Humboldt Park artist has been building buzz since exhibiting several explicit drawings at Art Chicago in 2010. Chock-full of enigmatic symbols and references to witchcraft—and sometimes naked men—Burgher’s graphic ruminations provide a lens into a dizzying, vibrant universe where curiosity and experimentation reigns.

Chicago recently visited Burgher in his studio where he discussed his influences and his work. 

Should we talk about the devil?

Sure. The drawing Lucifer comes from a portrait of a young man by Botticelli. I steal figures from out-of-date art history books when I’m out of things to draw. In the original, he’s wearing clothes, he has long hair, and he has a really beguiling face. I cut his hair short, gave him red eyes, and thought he looked like the devil.

So you undressed the devil. Is he supposed to be sexy?

He’s not unsexy. I think he’s kind of funny looking. He’s neither a boy nor a man. He’s also slightly feminine-looking. He’s a little bit in between things.

You also show up naked in many of your drawings.

Even though I’m naked, I don’t think it’s erotic. The point of the erect penis was to see if I could not overly eroticize something overtly sexual.

Is that the difference between naked and nude?

Well, yeah, and I don’t think of them as being nudes. I turned down an offer to be in a coffee table book about the male nude because I don’t want them being placed in that context too frequently. Their context is more mythological. So, Lucifer, he’s like a spirit of poetry or rebellion. Maybe in the future people won’t wear clothes?

Burgher is one of 17 Chicago artists in the Whitney Biennial opening March 7 in New York City. 

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