SAVANNAH.- This summer, the Telfair will present a major exhibition on the work of William Christenberry, whose art explores the spirit of Southern culture. Passing Time: The Art of William Christenberry will be on view at the Jepson Center for the Arts from through September 28, 2008.
William Christenberry's work, rooted in his Alabama upbringing, is born of things familiar and deeply felt. Whether in paintings, drawings, sculptures, constructions, found objects, or photographs, each expression gathers meaning from a specific time and place through which we experience one man's collected and recollected journeys. They are meditations on universal themes of loss and isolation, memory and comfort, creation and change.
Since the 1960s, Christenberry's annual trips from his Washington, D.C., home to the South have allowed him to maintain links to the land where he grew up. The perspective of a visitor allows him to observe changes to the landscape and reinterpret regional subjects like roadside buildings and gourd trees, or the harrowing presence of the Ku Klux Klan. After four decades, what began as an uncertain pursuit has evolved into a body of work reflecting the full immersion of the artist into his own past and experience. Christenberry's art offers, in the words of a fellow Southerner James Agee, "the cruel radiance of what it is."
William Christenberry was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1936. After earning a Master of Arts in painting from the University of Alabama, he moved to New York City in the early 1960s. There he discovered the 1941 James Agee / Walker Evans book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a Depression-era classic that had a profound influence upon the young artist. While living in New York, Christenberry also met and was befriended by Walker Evans, the pioneering photographer well known for his own work in rural Alabama, who would encourage Christenberry's exploration of the spirit of Southern culture. In 1968, Christenberry took a teaching position at the Corcoran College of Art in Washington, D.C., a post he still holds today.