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New exhibition at the Drawing Center focuses on three young artists
Elijah Burgher, Gordon, 2015. Color pencil on paper, 24 x 19 inches. Collection of Thomas Lavin.

NEW YORK, NY.- This fall, The Drawing Center presents an exhibition that focuses on three young artists—Elijah Burgher, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn—who explore diverse identities through portraiture and who do so almost exclusively through the medium of drawing. These artists have entirely distinct stylistic approaches and personal backgrounds but they are connected by the way in which they use drawing to investigate subjecthood as well as its resistance to depiction. Indeed, Burgher, Ojih Odutola, and Quinn embrace drawing because it invests surface with the felt intimacy of touch while nonetheless confirming it to be a malleable and uncertain construct. Ultimately, in the intellectual tradition of French theorist Édouard Glissant, these artists believe that the right to refuse explanation is as integral to the formulation of selfhood as is revelation.

For Opacity: Elijah Burgher, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn is the first museum exhibition to concentrate on the work of Burgher and Quinn and follows on the heels of Ojih Odutola’s successful 2017 New York debut at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the case of each artist, older drawings are placed alongside work created expressly for The Drawing Center exhibition to foreground the artists’ sustained and developing dedication to their fields of inquiry. At the same time, the artists’ works are interspersed throughout the exhibition space to allow for dialogue and cross-connections. Whether using a highly refined illusionistic approach (Burgher), a broad range of material techniques and media (Ojih Odutola), or a fractured, composite aesthetic (Quinn) the artists in For Opacity explore the relationship between insight and obscurity; what a surface can reveal and what it necessarily withholds. Organized by Claire Gilman, Chief Curator, with Amber Harper, Assistant Curator.

The painstakingly-crafted color pencil drawings by Elijah Burgher (b. 1978, Kingston, NY) blend abstraction with representation (typically images of nude men) in a way that literally encodes queer desire. Citing twentieth-century occultism, Burgher creates his precise backgrounds from sigils, private symbols that are readable only to the initiated. In this way, Burgher foregrounds the centrality of meaning while denying interpretation, his evocative yet coolly distanced depictions reinforce the imposed silence that undergirds his subjects’ amorous histories.

Solo exhibitions of Burgher’s work have been mounted by Western Exhibitions, Chicago and Zieher Smith + Horton, New York. He has also been included in group exhibitions at Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary, Berlin; Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, and the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, among others.

Toyin Ojih Odutola (b. 1985, Ile-Ife, Nigeria) distinguishes herself by the range of materials she uses, including graphite, white and black charcoal, ballpoint pen, pastel, color pencil, and marker, each of which she employs both in the service of articulating her subjects—that is, quite specifically, their variegated skin tones and clothing textures—and as a means of ensuring obfuscation. In Ojih Odutola’s hands, the line remains an intentional mark both delineating skin and surface and exposing it as an unstable socially-coded terrain.

In recent years, solo exhibitions of Ojih Odutola’s work have been mounted by the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, GA; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco; the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art.

Drawings by Nathaniel Mary Quinn (b. 1977, Chicago, IL) are collage-like in their fractured appearance and yet his visages, which combine disparate motifs and materials to create a composite whole, are drawn entirely by hand. Unlike Burgher’s more impersonal aesthetic, Quinn brings a palpable intimacy and vulnerability to his portraits that typically find their genesis in individuals from the artist’s life, particularly from his traumatic upbringing in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing complex in Chicago. But even as his subjects resonate emotionally, their identity remains protected by and beneath his variegated surfaces.

Quinn has been the subject of solo exhibitions at M+B, Los Angeles; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; Luce Gallery, Torino, Italy; and Pace London. His work has been included in group exhibitions at the Taubman Museum of Art, Virginia; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicag; the Hall Art Foundation, New York, and the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, FL, among others

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