Nationally recognized as an artist, photographer, teacher, and arts
advocate, William Christenberry has lived and worked in Washington, D.C.,
since 1968, when he became a professor of painting at the Corcoran Gallery
School of Art. Although Christenberry is well known as a photographer and
sculptor, relatively little has been known about his early paintings and
his career in the South prior to 1968.
Born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1936, Christenberry is closely identified
with the culture and environment of his native South, specifically with
the region around Hale County, Alabama, the same region memorialized by
James Agee and Walker Evans in the classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.
That book, first discovered by Christenberry when it was reissued in 1960,
served as a major influence upon his early aesthetic development, including
the creation of his "Tenant House" series of paintings, photographs,
and studies (1960-1964). Throughout The Early Years, Christenberry's work
is presented as part of an evolutionary series of developments that began
with Christenberry's immersion in the Abstract Expressionist philosophies
and techniques taught at The University of Alabama during his years as
a student there (1954-1959) and continued through his abandonment of painting
on canvas (1964) and his inclusion of signs and found objects in the three-dimensional constructions he created in Memphis (1964-1968)..
Many of the pieces featured in The Early Years were in storage in Christenberry's
attic for nearly three decades. Now part of a national touring exhibition,
they richly deserve the close attention J. Richard Gruber here gives them.
J. Richard Gruber, Deputy Director of the Morris Museum of Art,
also served as curator for the nationally touring show "William Christenberry:
The Early Works, 1954-1968."