William Christenberry is one of the definitive artists of contemporary American prescient in content and form. Starting his artist's life in abstract painting, Christenberry first because known as a photographer, and his subsequent works have incorporated printmaking, sculpture, bookmaking and assemblage, all wielded with equal confidence as their discrete forms become necessary to his vision. This is not so unusual, anymore, in contemporary American art. It is however notable that Christenberry through embracing multiple mediums and beginning to merge his abstract and narrative impulses more than 40 years ago, led the way for the current generation, and continues to astonish with the richness and clarity of his creative voice.
The Constructions and Related Drawings, 1964-1968 presents 25 wall-hung assemblages, along with 14 drawings and taco lithographs which are studies for, or conversely, two-dimensional evolutions from these dynamic and visually exciting forms. The Constructions mark a non-narrative formally conceptual approach to making abstract painting three-dimensional. Christenberry explains that "the Constructions are a very logical bridge between my early paintings, to my three-dimensional work of today." Between 1964-1968, Christenberry worked on the Constructions using found Styrofoam elements, throw-away materials and paint much in the spirit of Kurt Schwitter's merzbau compositions and Marcel Duchamp's "ready mades.''
Many artists have moved from representational works to more abstract forms through their careers. It is less usual for an artist to have emerged from rich and meaningful investigations in the depths of formal abstraction into a realm of narrative autobiography incorporating specific representations and documentations of the observed and changing world. Christenberry has navigated this atypical course with a characteristic Southern trust in the intelligence and aptitude of his viewers. The Constructions offer a view of Christenberry's experimental creative process at the beginning of his mature working life, free from specific narrative details. This view enriches and expands our understanding of the development of his increasingly narrative and autobiographical current works.
William Christenberry: The Early Years, 1954-1968 features this quintessential Southern artist's earliest works completed at the University of Alabama (1956-58), the Tenant House series (1960-64) and the Beale Street and Memphis paintings (1962-64). Included among many significant works on paper are a selection of early drawings an studies for constructions. Additionally, this exhibition presents a small number of Brownie-camera photographs. These black-and-white prints depict rural architecture found in Lets Us Now Praise Famous Men, homes of families known to the Christenberrys before William's discovering the Walker Evans/James Agee book in 1960.
William Christenberry: The Early Years, 1954-1968 presents Christenberry's work in his creative evolution. Immersed in Abstract Expressionist philosophies and techniques at the University of Alabama (1954-59), he abandoned painting on canvas (1964), and adopted signs and found objects in the three-dimensional Constructions in Memphis (1964-68). By 1960, following his discovery of the Evans/Agee work, he began including specific references to the places of his family file and history, including Hale County and Perry County, Alabama, reflecting his responses to the ever-changing Southern physical and cultural environment.